Thank you to everyone who came along to our online project update talks in September. You can now watch a recording of these sessions. We’ve also written up the questions from both the Welsh and English talks and included them all below.
Your questions answered
Questions from talk audience and answers given by Siân Stacey (SS) Project Development Officer, Rhys Evans (RE) from the RSPB Cymru Policy Team, or Steve Evison (SE) from Nearly Wild.
Will the local Welsh community play a leading role in this project?
SS: Absolutely, it’s essential for us to hear everyone’s voices. But particularly so from those with their hands in the soil or the sea locally, whatever they may be doing with the natural resources. It’s important for us to learn from them and for us to share their hopes and aspirations. But it’s also important to listen to those who use these resources too, people who live in the area but who don’t own land, or those who visit on holiday. But absolutely for me it’s important that we involve those who live and work with natural resources to be an integral part in forming this vision.
Is there such a thing as a local directory of nature based businesses?
SE: Partially, the work I’m doing with Nearly Wild is currently developing a directory locally. Nearly Wild tried to do one across the whole of the UK, but for a range of reason, mainly the scale, meant it was building very slowly.. We’re currently therefore creating one for Mid Wales, specifically starting in Powys (as this is where we’ve had some funding towards our work). Interest in this is developing very rapidly and I certainly see this expanding across Mid Wales soon. But to add to this, we have the problem of what exactly is a nature based business. It’s a term that’s being used a lot, it’s already being used in the international field, but it’s increasingly being used in the UK. Nearly Wild have been looking at this by categorising businesses and considering how businesses can or can’t / do or don’t, work to pro-actively, passively or reactively benefit nature and wildlife. We’re advanced in developing this and will use it to support work with Summit to Sea.
What is the Endangered Landscapes Programme?
The Endangered Landscapes Programme is hosted by Cambridge Conservation Initiative and is a programme established through funding from the Arcadia Fund, which is a philanthropic fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin. The programme aims to restore natural ecological processes, species populations and habitats for a better and more sustainable future. It signals a shift away from a narrative of ‘slowing declines’ and ‘no net loss’ to a positive and creative conservation agenda in which the potential of our land and seas is recognised.
I understand that the idea of re-wilding has caused some concerns amongst farmers in Britain and within Wales. What is the relationship between local farmers and the project like now. How have you responded to the concerns raised by some?
SS: Yes, the term ‘rewilding’ did raise a number of concerns locally, and when I started working with the project in August 2019 these concerns were very clear to me. One of my priorities was to get out and listen and chat with people locally about their concerns. It became clear that these concerns were becoming a barrier for the project to proceed. This was shared with the project partnership and as a result of these concerns Rewilding Britain made the decision to step back from being involved in the project in October 2019. From this point on Rewilding Britain were no longer involved in the project development and did not contribute to the development of the current priorities and objectives of the project.
SS: We were very fortunate to have several local organisations, in particular the COPA group, which comprises a range of local people including farmers, contribute to the process of re-setting the project and inputting into this phase of the project’s development. We’re very grateful to those who gave their time and knowledge to help reshape the project. We’re now in a place where the project is no longer seen as such a threat and is building relationships with a broad range of stakeholders. Through listening and sharing with people we can build on this and hopefully work together to develop a project which can deliver for nature and people in the area.
RE: I’d like to just say a few words about the term ‘rewilding’. It has become quite a divisive term, and a lot of the reason for that is because it means different things to different people. Some people have quite ‘extreme’ versions of the word ‘rewilding’ whilst others see it in a more conservative way. I’ve spoken to some farmers who are worried about ‘rewilding’, but in the same conversation they share the work they’ve been doing to restore their peatlands or fencing some parts of their land to allow trees to regrow naturally. To me that’s one way of describing rewilding. But the RSPB standpoint on rewilding is that it is one of a range of ways of managing land, it’s not an all size fits all approach. Rewilding could be a threat to some of our wildlife, for example our ground nesting birds which like open spaces with shorter grasses (or less thick grass). But in other situations, a little less grazing, or allowing trees to regenerate naturally could be of to benefit the environment. This project gives us a chance as an environmental charity, to come together with other stakeholders including farmers and explore what works locally. It’s got to be locally appropriate, so involving and working with those who know the area is incredibly important.
Is there any connection to Rewilding Britain?
SS: Rewilding Britain were involved in the initial development of the project but left the partnership in October 2019. You can read more about the current partners of the project on our website here. Rewilding Britain were not involved in the re-design of the project and are not playing any role in the development of the project.
Rhys spoke about farmers undertaking their own monitoring within the new Government plan – this is a good idea but it’s also important that farmers also write their own Environmental Plan for their farms (or groups of farmers) too – will there be a change to test this within this project?
RE: As I mentioned earlier, I’m hoping that the project can be a chance to work together to design environmental programmes for our farms. That is Welsh Government hope that each farm that’s part of a sustainable management programme has a visit from an officer to co-design the management together. This project has the potential to provide us with a step ahead and provide us with a chance to test this and learn from the process for others in the future policy.
SS: We have a chance in the next 12-24 months to focus on co-designing this project. In the past some elements of the project rushed ahead a bit too soon, but we’ve learnt from that and want to make sure we give this the time needed. We also need to be aware of the timescale of the new policy from Welsh Government and work out how we can support these changes. We don’t want to pre-empt anything that may put people on the back foot, we need to be ready and prepared to develop ideas in response to this. But within holding this conversation we may find that people come together and have ideas they’d like to try straight away, and perhaps we can support and facilitate that through existing organisations.
Why and what are landowners, is it only farmers who are these people?
RE: Good question, and something which is raised in policy a lot. A farmer is certainly one of these people, but there are also other individuals, e.g. foresters, those who own and look after parks in more urban areas. One statistic to note is that in Wales 80% of the land is managed by farmers, and so farmers are one of the main landowners in this area. But that doesn’t mean that the project just works with farmers, but with everyone. Also, the hope would be that different landowners work with each other. Often forestry and farming are pitted as different people/sections, but often grazing in forestry is needed so there could be some connecting of these habitats and people.
SS: One of the most interesting aspects of the project to me is that we’re working beyond boundaries. Beyond the farm or forest to connect landscape, nature doesn’t stay within boundaries so we need to work across landscape too. There are some projects, many SMS projects for example the Pennal Partnership or Tir a Mor which provide great examples of how we can create greater connectivity, and therefore create a positive effect through working together.
Why isn’t there a representation of local people and those who work the land in the area on the current partnership?
SS: This is something we’re working on. We do have one of the local wildlife trusts, Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust, as a partner, we also work with Pen Llyn a’r Sarnau SAC who have a long track record of working with the coastal communities in the area. But this is something we’re focusing on improving in this period. The partners currently involved are ensuring that that co-design process works properly, but as we develop this process we’ll begin to have a wider range of partners involved, either those who want to support the governance, delivery or management. But the doors are open, so if you’re interested in playing a bigger part in the project please do get in touch.
Is designation for the wider area, as an AONB or National Park, likely to help the project?
SS: It’s probably a bit too early in this projects development to look at things like this. But we are of course already working within the UNESCO Dyfi Biosphere, which goes to show what we already have here that’s worth celebrating.
SE: I think about this process approach as a way of building an opportunity for nature to thrive alongside, or within, the context of how we live and work. Maybe we’re moving from a space where we’re talking about designations to a completely new way of thinking and working. We’ve been talking to a range of people in the area about this (but also noting the impact that Covid has had and will continue to have). It’s too early to talk about designation and this is perhaps part of a bigger conversation to be started.
What opportunities do you see the post-CAP farm support regime offering to achieve the project's objectives (obviously there is still an ongoing consultation on this)?
SS: There is still a consultation ongoing on this which is why we as a project have extended our timescales so that we can be responsive and reactive to this policy. But it does seem to be going in the direction of nature friendly farming and payment for ecosystem services. This links in perfectly with this project, so hopefully we can look at ways in which we can help preparing towards this or plugging any gaps before this comes into action.
SE: It’s such a big subject area, but it’s exciting that we’re starting to develop good conversations within the farming community and hopefully this can continue to build. This isn’t going to be a one hit wonder, whatever comes out of the new support will need to be built on. We’ll be continuing to keep an eye on developments and supporting those who are involved in the process. Then, together, we’ll be able to work out what the gaps are and where the opportunities are as it’s a continuing process.
Are you able to plug in to any agri-environment schemes to push for nature-based food production systems?
SS: Yes depending on how the schemes develop. We can then look at how this project can support the natural resource users in the area. Food production systems are definitely areas we need to be looking at, and this was a key outcome of the people’s assembly hosted a few months ago which explored how we could continue and/or change our food production systems over the coming years to be more resilient, or how we may need to change our crops depending on the change in climate. Ecodyfi are also running a Mixed Farming project at the moment which is looking at how food production in the Dyfi Biosphere area has changed over the years and what this might look like in the future.
Will you develop marketing tools (e.g. brand logo) for businesses that work in the way Steve has mentioned?
SS: If this is a gap which is identified through the co-design process then we’ll explore it. But we know there are several projects working in this area locally already such as the Cambrian Mountain Initiative and Dyfi Biosphere, so there are ways of linking in with what’s already going on but if there are gaps then this process should identify it.
How are you looking to help get investments (private & public) into these businesses (i.e. truly ethical, social, and sustainable investment)?
SS: Yes, we are looking at this. One of the project partners, Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust are already exploring this with the Project Pumlumon at the moment. With possible opportunities from a Green Recovery hopefully on the horizon this is something we can look at along with others.
Outside investment and funding is something we are also conscious brings its own ‘costs’. When people donate or grant money, they usually have an expectation as to how it will be used. We feel it is important to keep an awareness of this an ensure the funding is in line with the needs, values, ethos, culture of the area. This way the control is not lost to externally driven agendas, but instead is used to support work seen as of value both locally and externally.
Do you have any priority species that you are specifically focusing on as part of this landscape scale transformation and how will they benefit the objectives and vision for this project?
SS: We don’t have a straightforward answer to this because it does depend on what comes out of the process. But there’s certainly a lot of discussion to be had around reintroductions, for example the success of pine martens, which has contributed to the reduction of grey squirrels and therefore an increase in the red squirrel which is positive. The re-introduction of beavers is also part of the picture in this part of Wales, although not always completely popular, the beaver as a species which can contribute to our eco-system services has certainly got to be part of the picture. These will all be aspects we’ll be exploring over the next few months.
SE: It’s also really important to consider that the vision that’s emerging is of one that’s of a connected and resilient ecological systems. And that is less about individual species and more about the connectivity and porosity of the way that system works. The breakdown of some of our ecosystems is often where over a long period of time (sometimes even centuries), there has been a gradual attrition of a complex system. Species loss and connectivity eventually reaching a critical point where so many pieces are missing (or no longer connected) that they no longer function properly. Once this happens, even putting t species back in to the system, they may not survive or would face the same problems they have in the past.
I've recently spent time cycle touring around the area and it appears that some of the upland areas are over grazed by sheep. How do you see a future that can combine sheep farming and nature?
SE: This is something I’ve had many a conversation with farming friends around the kitchen table with cups of tea, it’s a massive topic. But broadly speaking, the sorts of conversations being had, include not only the judgement call / different perceptions on what the ‘right number’ of sheep is, but also what does ‘over’ and ‘under’ grazing look like. It’s important to look at a greater range of stock, for example cattle and other types of animals, as well as looking at the heritage and genetic stock of the breeds. Alongside that, you’ve also got the management of the grazing. So in short, how can nature and sheep grazing combine, well very easily. When you think about it, sheep are essentially just cropping what native grazing herds would be. There are lots of nuances and answers to this but we don’t have the time to look at this in more detail tonight.
Will there be an open call for specific projects and what funding will be available to achieve these...revenue/capital?
SS: We’re trying to move away from this being seen as a specific ‘call to funding’ as we’re hoping that through the co-design process we’ll be able to work together to create a vision and then the criteria for how we deliver that vision. Through this process we’ll be sure to hear from those who have ideas or solutions already. I’d urge anyone to get involved in the process. We’d prefer to work together with people rather than open a grant round, this will enable us to be as strategic as possible in delivering the vision.
SE: Many large landscape scale projects end up going down this route of asking people to ‘put in proposal for projects’, and what you end up with is a portfolio of one off projects, this means you don’t necessarily end up with things that are going to create impact at scale. It is often the gaps between these projects that get missed and where greater opportunities lie, so by going through this process of saying ‘What are the ideas out there, what do they need, how can they fit together to create impact at scale’ we should spot these gaps. Otherwise this isn’t going to look any different to any other projects which in truth don’t join together.
SS: Talking about connectivity, of land and sea, or habitats, this is what we want to work towards, which is why we’re using a process for this rather than suggesting a disconnected funding programme.
Do you have plans to collaborate with the university? There is so much potential for student projects (undergraduate/masters/PhD) in the next stage post-2022
Yes. We’ve already been talking to several people from Aberystwyth University already and we’re very keen to keep talking. There’s a huge amount of work going on locally with Aber Uni, particularly with the IBERS department, so we’re lucky to be based in this area. We’re also lucky to have CAT in the area. Bangor University have been involved in some of the earlier parts of the project. It’s really important we work with these institutions, both for the benefit of the project, particularly around the monitoring and evaluation aspects, but also for the students.
Can RSPB's landscape scale ecological restoration project around Vyrnwy be used as a model for similar work in the "Summit to Sea" area?
SS: Yes, the project is lucky to have RSPB Cymru as hosts for the project at this stage as they’re very experienced in being involved in landscape scale projects such as in Vyrnwy, I’ve also been looking at the Living Levels project in Newport. We’ve also been learning from Tir a Mor on Pen Llyn, the Living Landscapes projects that the Wildlife Trusts are running, as well as various Treescape projects that the Woodland Trust are leading at the moment.
Questionnaire on your use of the natural resources of the area
We’ve already had a huge response to the questionnaire we launched in September. We’ll be keeping this questionnaire open for a number of months so there is still time to complete this if you’ve not done so yet.
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