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The mutual benefit of sheep and trees highlighted at NSA Wales / Cymru meeting

10th November 2023

The establishment of a balanced environment accommodating both commercial farming and trees was the topic of discussion for the Cymru/Wales Region of the National Sheep Association (NSA) this week.

Bringing together speakers from contrasting companies and organisations to meet with an audience of Welsh sheep farmers the meeting, held at the Royal Welsh Showground, Builth Wells, created a lively and interesting debate that highlighted the enthusiasm from many to implement climate and wildlife friendly practices on farm.

Andrew Bronwin MSc MRICS MIC from Bronwin & Abbey - Foresters and Surveyors opened proceedings with a presentation focusing on the commercial advantages that tree planting can bring to farmers. Advocating that it should be farming and forestry in harmony, not farming or forestry in competition explaining how the two enterprises could work to mutual advantage and not be a threat to each other.

Mr Bronwin indicated that although carbon is perceived as a large driver in tree planting it is not the only solution to the climate emergency and the advantages of biodiversity enhancement should be considered much more. He also highlighted the concerns that there seems to be little joined up thinking across the policy arena, with many opportunities being missed due to poor communication.

The discussion highlighted that by 2050 the demand for timber will double across the world and although market forces are globally determined there is huge scope to enter the market, indicated that since the 1990’s there has been very little significant tree planting across the UK.

The conversation continued as the next speaker, Arfon Williams from RSPB Cymru, considered how rural and farming communities work together for the benefit of the environment. Mr Williams outlined that just in our lifetime we have lost almost half of farmland birds, mammals, amphibians and insects, much of this can be attributed to the significant change in management practices over the generations, moving from less intensive haymaking to more intensive methods of ensiled feeds.

Mr Williams emphasised that farming had an extensive and beneficial part to play in the biodiversity crisis and livestock were crucial in creating habitats and condition conducive to species flourishing. Although progress was being made it was highlighted that the biggest impediment to increasing biodiversity on farms is government policy and the disconnect between advisory systems.

NSA Cymru Development Officer, Helen Roberts says: “It was especially encouraging to see so many attending this meeting and highlighted that farming is looking for solutions and to implement climate friendly practices on farm. The conclusion from the discussions indicated that a lack of detail on policy and subsequent ability to forward plan was hindering progress for farmers wishing to add trees into their farmed environments, but also the lack of data considering the benefits of grassland to the environment.”