A decision by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to end conservation management agreements with dozens of farmers threatens to seriously damage the future of these areas, a wildlife and farming organisation has warned.
Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) Cymru says Section 15 agreements, which pay farmers an average of £2,175/year to manage Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), are vital for the protection of the landscape, wildlife and the environment.
In 2011-12, farmers were paid £2.03m under the scheme, but that budget has gradually reduced to the current £1.66m.
NRW has told Farmers Weekly only 118 of the 172 individual management agreements up for renewal this year are likely to be given a new contract. This would mean up to 4400ha would not be covered by a management agreement in the future.
Glenda Thomas, director of FWAG Cymru, described NRW’s decision as “damaging”.
“Farmers who previously were proud of the special sites they manage on their farms are now in danger of becoming disenchanted with these areas as they perceive that NRW, through reducing payments, no longer recognises their importance and the scale of environmental management required to keep them in good condition,’’ she warned.
Among those farmers are livestock producers William and Dorath Edwards.
They said they had to wait three years for payment on a seven-acre hay meadow on their farm at Tŷ Cerrig Blaenau, Rhydymain, near Dolgellau. That payment has been reduced from £700 to £500 and new restrictions on the application of manure and the grazing of cattle are making that land unproductive.
The couple are upset at the payment cut and the new management restrictions. “We are really unhappy with the situation, but we felt we had no alternative but to sign the contract this month to prevent further delays,’’ said Mrs Edwards.
Ruth Jenkins, head of natural resources strategy and planning at NRW, said “ongoing financial pressures’’ meant the organisation had to prioritise how its money was spent.
There are currently 37,550ha of land in Wales under management agreements covering about 12.5% of Wales’ SSSIs.