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An uncertain future
Upland areas such as the Cambrian Mountains look wild, but in reality the landscape has been crafted by human activity over thousands of years. The major influences in modern times have been farming, forestry and mining; but the mines are now closed and upland farming, which has been in decline for some decades, faces a tough future. For farming subsidy purposes, the Cambrian Mountains are designated as Less Favoured Area with low agricultural potential due to the challenging physical conditions. The average age of farmers is increasing, while farm incomes decline, and for many farms it is unclear who will take it on in the future. Like other rural areas of mid-Wales, limited public transport makes families and communities heavily dependent on cars.
The area offers a high quality of living away from the noise, pollution and stress of urban life, and many local towns have access to high broadband speeds at least as good as if not better than city centres. The uplands are also some of the few remaining wide areas of land not subject to high development or production pressure. Nevertheless, changing economic pressures combined with climate change mean the uplands we know and love are continually under threat.
Although they collect large quantities of our drinking water, store millions of tonnes of Carbon in their peat and soils, and are home to some of our most treasured birds, there is little consensus as to what precisely these landscapes are ‘for’ in relation to humans. As a result, competing possible uses are in constant tension:
- Some farm and forestry practices can have a negative effect on water quality, flood management and carbon storage – but conversely, prioritising ecosystem services can make farming even more challenging for those whose land is affected, especially those whose land is not well suited to ecosystem service provision;
- increasing intensive conifer forestry degrades soils, increases the level of acidity in rivers, reduces plant diversity and reduces habitats for wildlife;
- installation of renewable energy systems such as wind farms disrupts peatlands, releasing carbon and displacing ground-nesting birds. Once installed, their presence and operation continue to affect wildlife and can severely affect the appearance of the landscape as a whole. This reduces the value of the area for many visitors: both those who come simply to spend time in nature as a relief from mental stresses and those whose seeking recreational activities such as walking, cycling or canoeing which also improve physical health.
Climate change – increasing both average temperatures and the frequency of extreme weather events – puts an extra level of stress on the Cambrian Mountains environment:
- The moorlands are likely to get more vulnerable to fires, such as the one which destroyed large areas of the Woodland Trust’s Smithills Estate near Manchester in 2018;
- The peatlands and bogs may begin to dry out, releasing yet more carbon into streams and the atmosphere, and becoming less effective as a ‘sponge’ to slow the flow of rainwater from the high ground into rivers, so increasing the risk of flooding downstream;
- Finally, many niche species of plants and animals may begin to retreat further into the remotest areas or even leave altogether.
In these circumstances, careful landscape-scale stewardship is not just desirable but essential to protect our environment and landscape – and the livelihoods of the communities which have lived and worked in the Cambrian Mountains for so many generations. Follow the links above to read more about our primary concerns.