Farmers aim to reverse habitat decline on Welsh common land

Three grazing associations have now applied for a grant of £695,300 to help improve public access and encourage wildlife
Three grazing associations have now applied for a grant of £695,300 to help improve public access and encourage wildlife

Farmers with grazing rights to thousands of acres of common land have joined forces for a major project to remove bracken, improve public access and encourage wildlife.

Farmers and grazing associations have teamed up to help reverse habitat management decline on Welsh common land.

Three Mid-Wales grazing associations - Llanfihangel-bryn-Pabuan, Llysdinam and Llanwrthwl – have won funding from the Sustainable Management Scheme (SMS), administered by the Welsh government.

The bid by the associations, made under the name of Three Parishes, was successful at the Expression of Interest (EOI) stage and has now applied for a grant of £695,300.

The three-year project, which will include measures to reintroduce cattle onto the commons and rebuild traditional stone walls, was one of nine projects that were successful in the EOI round.

Beef and sheep farmer Frances Gwillim, a non-active grazier, said that if the bid was successful, the benefits would extend much further than direct benefits to the graziers such as restoring wildlife habitats and employment creation.

It will attract more people to the hills because access will be improved and tracks and walls repaired and, with improved habitats, more breeds of birds will nest there, said Mrs Gwillim, of The Parc, Llanafan Fawr, near Builth Wells.

There are plans to train people in new skills including stone walling and to develop a trial to investigate the hefting of hardy cattle onto the commons for habitat management.

Bracken problem

Bracken encroachment is a major problem on the 2500 hectares of common land included in the funding application.

It is a risk to sheep health because it harbours ticks which infect flocks and cause illnesses such as louping ill and tick borne fever, and also threatens human health through Lyme disease.

Aside from the health issues, it encroaches on public access, smothers plants and historic features and is unsuitable habitat for the many the species of wild bird that live on the common.

By managing the bracken, the project will improve wildlife diversity by supporting several species including the golden plover, curlew and skylark.

Graziers and the wider community wanted to take control of the situation before it became unmanageable; the project will form part of the sustainable management planned for the area.

The application sets out plans to use aerial spraying, bruising and weep wiping techniques to remove the bracken. Cattle would be reintroduced to help prevent the bracken returning by grazing.

Rights to graze the commons is linked to individual farms – there are 80 graziers on Llanfihangel-bryn-Pabuan, Llysdinam and Llanwrthwl commons although only 15 actively graze this land.

The project will also apply to a fourth common, Carngafallt at Llanwrthwl, which was included in the application.