19 July 2002

FINDING A SUSTAINABLE UK UPLAND

A new five-year project

aims to find a sustainable

and economically viable

future for heather moorland

THE environmental consequences of the way the uplands of Wales are farmed are having a profound impact on government and EU policies.

The shift from headage to area-based support payments for hill farms, and increased emphasis on rewarding farmers who get involved in agri-environment schemes, mean that they have no option but to respond.

This should guarantee strong interest in the ADAS stand at Builth Wells, which will feature a new five-year upland management project based at ADAS Pwll-peiran near Cwmystwyth, ADAS Redesdale and on commercial farms.

Two DEFRA divisions are providing funding of just over £1m to find an environmentally sustainable and economically-viable system for the restoration of heather moorland in England and Wales.

The huge project also involves the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research, SAC, the RSPB, Newcastle University, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales.

An independent company with two decades of experience of heather restoration is also providing advice, and the whole project is being co-ordinated by Dr Sarah Hetherington, an ADAS upland ecologist based at Pwllpeiran.

She says that models developed by various partners in the project will be used for what she describes as one of the largest ever integrated projects.

Showgoers who find time to talk to scientists manning the stand will learn that the economic impact on farming of changing upland management will be a key component of the initiative. Mariecia Fraser from IGER will use plot studies to look at the interaction between livestock and vegetation, especially where cattle are re-introduced to the hills. She will look at the dietary preferences of cattle and sheep, intakes and animal health.

Organic beef

ADAS Pwllpeiran will also give prominence to results from the 115ha (284 acre) organic beef and sheep unit it set up within the 1118ha (2763 acre) hill farm in 1993. These show some of the limitations to profitable organic farming in a severely disadvantaged area.

These include the lack of opportunity to grow arable crops, difficulties growing legumes, and declining soil fertility linked to having insufficient amounts of farm yard manure to replace soil nutrients leached out by high rainfall.

Feeding cattle on grass increases the proportion of beneficial fatty acids, says IGERs Nigel Scollan.

Mariecia Fraser from IGER will use plot studies to look at the interaction between livestock and vegetation in hill areas.

Sarah Hetherington, an ADAS upland ecologist based at Pwllpeiran, is co-ordinating the five-year management project.