Farming

Gweithgaredd dynol yn y dirwedd: ffermwyr, porthmyn a mwyngloddwyr

cambrian-mountains-welsh-black-cattlewelsh blacks near moel y llyn sept 2016 1400

Apart from that land which is covered by water, the physical landscape of the Cambrian Mountains was, until the 1940s, almost exclusively given over to agriculture. Agriculture it was therefore that shaped that landscape, by clearance of scrub, by drainage, by grazing and by human occupation.  By the late 12th century, extensive pastures in the Cambrian Mountains were being grazed by herds of cattle and large flocks of sheep which provided the Cistercian abbey at Strata Florida with its principal income.

Much of the area continued to be sparsely populated throughout most of the year, being exploited during the summer months by small dairy farms which, in the later mediaeval period, began to encroach upon the margins of the uplands.  A handful of small lead and zinc mines and stone quarries were established.  The uplands were also used for peat cutting for fuel, and by several drovers’ roads taking cattle to markets in the English Midlands, all at their heyday in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The changes that have taken place since the war – and the changes that threaten in the future – are largely associated with the decline of agricultural prosperity and employment.

These changes include:

  • Massive expansion of coniferous forestry.  In the post war years it was thought that in such “marginal agricultural” areas as the Cambrian Mountains the need for and financial viability of forestry products outweighed the requirement even for food. The change of use was often resented by farmers but they lacked the support of the rest of the community. Now, the expectations of financial viability of that forestry are known to have been misplaced, whilst its damaging visual, social and wildlife implications have become obvious for all to see. See our Issues page for more information
  • Decline and abandonment of some upland farms. One of the most obvious features of the physical landscape is the abandoned farmsteads. Visually they are often attractive, but behind that attraction lies the human story, with its corollary of the disappearance of schools, shops and community.
  • Changes to farming support schemes.  Financial pressures on agriculture are likely to be at least as intense in the future as they have been in the past. There is considerable uncertainty at present about the future of the Glastir agricultural support scheme for farms in areas classified as Less Favoured Areas, such as these uplands.
  • Changed farming systems – in particular the expansion in sheep numbers and the contraction or disappearance of other agricultural activities, especially cattle and pony grazing, with consequential implications for wildlife diversity. Following the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union the Welsh Government is about to propose a new system of farming subsidies, to be known as the Sustainable Farming Scheme, which will substantially change the economics of upland farms replacing payments for livestock with ‘public funds for public goods’.  It remains to be seen how this will affect the landscape of the Cambrian uplands.

Links:

High Nature Value Farming – Case Studies Wales

Farmers’ Union of Wales report: The Role of Grazing Animals and Agriculture in the Cambrian Mountains (2013)

NFU Cymru: A Vision for Welsh Upland Farming (2020)

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