Welsh green scheme under threat
By Robert Davies, Wales correspondent
A MAN who farms some of the most picturesque upland in Wales has warned that he could be forced to abandon environmentally friendly management.
Hedd Pugh runs 1350 Welsh Mountain ewes on land running up to 870m (2900ft) in the Aran Fawddwy Valley in Meirionydd.
The thousands of walkers who use the two footpaths crossing the severely disadvantaged land enjoy spectacular landscapes, which Mr Pugh has enhanced through the Tir Cymen whole farm agri-environment scheme.
In return for an annual management payment, he halted the improvement of semi-natural rough grazings and bracken-infested areas.
The money compensated for cutting the ewe flock by 218 head to reduce grazing pressure on sensitive habitats, and he used capital grants to fence off areas for tree-planting, renovating hedgerows and repairing dry-stone walls.
But with only two years of his 10-year agreement to run, he is worried that he will not qualify for the new under-funded Tir Gofal scheme.
“If we lost the agri-environment money, we would have to run more sheep and, because lamb prices and sheep annual premium have fallen, by many more than the original number,” said Mr Pugh during a press farm walk at Blaencywarch, Dinas Mawddwy.
The fence around land planted with oaks would have to come down to increase the area eligible for payment under the Hill Farming Allowance scheme, and the sheep would kill the slow-growing trees, he said.
As county NFU chairman, Mr Pugh knew that many other local farmers would be forced, very reluctantly, to undo all their Tir Cymen environmental gains if they failed to get Tir Gofal contracts.
There was no spare money in upland farming, he said.
The lightweight lambs he sold for export to southern Europe were making 180p/kg on the hook, compared with 240p/kg a few years ago.
Ewe premium was down, draft ewes made 4/head compared with a previous peak of 29, and culls were worthless.
“All our production costs are up, and rising. It now costs over 15/head to away winter ewes and ewe lambs.
“If the environmental payments are lost, we will have no alternative but to run more sheep.”