Agriculture in Wales
Wales is a land of grass. Most of our upland and lowland landscapes are dominated by verdant green fields; indeed, 83% of our farmed landscape is permanent pasture or rough grazing.
Whilst this rich green landscape appears pleasant, it has, in effect, become a factory floor – ploughed, re-seeded, fertilised and sprayed with herbicide to maximise productivity. Just as our flower-rich meadows have gone, so have our flower-rich cornfields. Over the last 60 years, 75% of arable land was converted to pasture; Anglesey, for example, is no longer regarded as the “bread-basket of Wales”. The remaining cornfields are so intensively managed they have lost all their colour.
These changes could be seen as inevitable and irreversible – the world needs feeding and concerns over food security encourage ever greater agricultural intensification and specialisation. Yet we do have choices about the way we farm.
Plant declines are much greater than other wildlife which has received more attention and publicity. Yellowhammers have declined by 40% in the past 20 years but are now relatively stable. By contrast, shepherd’s-needle has declined by 96% in 50 years and today is practically extinct as a wild flower.
However, it doesn’t have to be an inexorable decline. Agri-environment could work for the majority of farmland plants – it’s just that in its current form it mostly hasn’t. Lessons from the Tir Gofal scheme, which showed that high-quality management options targeted at the right places can deliver real benefits for plants, have not always been adopted in the new Glastir scheme.
Agri-environment schemes like Tir Gofal and Glastir could have led to a considerable regeneration of farmland plants, with good uptake and many of the right management options for some plants like cornfield flowers. However, their impact has been minor as the right options have low uptake in the right places. We are in the crux of change with the fledgling Glastir under review and the new Common Agricultural Policy budget due to start this year. This is the opportune moment to decide how we manage our countryside and wildlife for the future.
Without the wink of pheasant’s eye or the smile of milkmaids, our insects and birds have declined, leaving a countryside that is not only monochrome, but also silent. Plantlife Cymru urges the Welsh Government to ensure that the right management is targeted at the right locations and at the right degree of scale to successfully maintain and enhance our farmland flowers for the future.