We have held nine drop-in sessions all over the project area in the last few months, and more than 150 people joined us to discuss the project. Thank you to everyone who participated.
We apologise for the short notice of these sessions and want to reassure you that there will be many more opportunities to take part in shaping the project in the coming months.
Here is a summary of the key comments, concerns and ideas that came out of our discussions, in order of frequency.
“I’m interested to know exactly how the project will develop”
So are we! We genuinely don’t know yet. The project is in its first phase, which is entirely about engaging with people in the area, and mostly about listening. We need to take stock of how people feel about the current uses of the land and the challenges that they are already facing, learn about other projects, and form open working relationships with our project partners, and all sorts of other local people and organisations (and you?). Only through taking this time can we begin to visualise and co-design a way forward, supporting existing and new initiatives in the area to make a significant difference. As such there is an understandably frustrating lack of detail at the moment, but we hope you will see that this is for good reason!
This listening process will run until August 2020, with a series of focused workshops, more drop-in sessions and lots of one-on-one meetings. Sign up to the newsletter to hear about these. We have started this process but will be continuing to gather ideas throughout the project lifetime.
“There has been a lack of sharing from the project”
We know that we need to be better at communicating. We are a tiny team with a lot of big partners, a whole new project remit that has proved understandably controversial, and some really big hurdles to negotiate already. We’re going to be sharing more on our website, and getting out there on social media soon. In the meantime, drop us an email and we’ll respond, or join our mailing list.
“We’re interested in supporting local food production/a local food market. We need better marketing of sustainable/nature-friendly meat production”
We’d like to explore this further with groups already working in this field, but we also need to be realistic about what this project can actually achieve. In the meantime it’s worth having a look at Food Manifesto Wales who are taking inspiration from successful networks in other areas.
“We should celebrate the positive, nature-friendly farming practices that are already happening”
Yes! We’d like to get some more information on our website about positive sustainable farming practices already happening in the area which we can celebrate and promote. Let us know if you’d like us to visit your farm or if you’d like to share your farm’s story on our website.
The Nature Friendly Farming Network has some great case studies.
“How can farmers benefit from the project? How can the project support farmers without them risking payments from agri-environment schemes they may already be within?”
In the coming months we’re going to be exploring how the project can best support those interested in taking part this year.
If you’d like to join a workshop on this subject to help us design something that can really work, please let us know! The responses so far have shown us we need to be realistic about what the project can actually achieve and not raise expectations.
“Are there recommendations for interested landowners?”
We’d like to work together to develop some simple ‘no regrets’ options that interested landowners can implement to support better biodiversity. These will be first steps that will cause you no regrets as they will be either reversible, and/or have a low impact on your use of the land, but that will have been designed to make a real difference to the health of the land. We can visit your land, learn what you’ve been doing already, support you in undertaking a wildlife survey and possibly make other suggestions on changes/tweaks to your existing work. Do email us if this is of interest.
“Badgers are a big issue for me. They are having a negative impact on other wildlife, particularly on ground nesting birds”
This is likely to be outside of the scope of what the project can support. What we do know is that taking steps to allow and encourage ecosystems of interdependent habitats and species can help nature to balance itself. Certain more rare and at-risk species may need greater interventions in the short term, such as certain ground-nesting birds, and the overall goal of connecting and enhancing habitat will help with this. In terms of specific species support and intervention we will work closely with our conservation partners to identify problems and potential solutions.
“Can the project support red squirrel populations in the area?”
A lot of landowners mentioned a desire to see more red squirrels, brought about in part by a reduction in grey squirrel numbers. This is an area we could explore with others already working to support red squirrel populations in Mid Wales.
Currently the project is focusing on habitat issues at a landscape scale – if the habitat is healthy and connected there is more chance of species recovery.
“The project should make better use of consultants/expertise in the area and not fund external companies if skills and experience exist in the project area”
We agree. This project is about learning from local expertise, finding solutions that are specific to this landscape, and supporting the local community and economy, and as such we are working with businesses, consultants and charities based in the area. As the project is currently going through a time of major change we’ve currently put any external contracts on hold and will be reviewing these.
“I’m concerned about the flooding risk and how to prevent flooding in the future”
The project could help develop collaborative approaches to this major issue through facilitating joint initiatives. If proposals arise for large-scale projects that make use of nature-based methods to reduce flood risk, but which are beyond the funding capability of the project, then we might be able to facilitate joint funding bids to support this.
“I am concerned that the project will be reintroducing predatory species”
We’ve always said that we would only support reintroductions with community endorsement. We’re more likely to explore red squirrels and water voles as reintroductions/species support. We’re not looking at wolves, lynx or other large carnivores.
Reintroductions of carnivores is one of the thorny issues of rewilding, which is in itself a very undefined term. Cambrian Wildwood have a very interesting post on this issue here.
“I am concerned that the project is attempting to remove farming”
The project has always been about working alongside existing land use, but we appreciate that we need to communicate this better. Farming is an important part of both the community and economy of Mid Wales and has the solutions to support wildlife and biodiversity. We want to keep farmers on their land.
“The project doesn’t actually have much money so what difference can it really make?”
The project was awarded £3.4 million for use over five years. We want to make sure this funding is spent in the best way possible, and need your input to make sure we deliver this effectively. Realistically, it is likely the project will achieve most by facilitating collaborations of existing work, funding small-scale pilots and supporting further funding bids. A small team of project staff will be in place to coordinate this.
“Agri-environment schemes haven’t worked for either farmer or wildlife”
This is something we’d like to discuss with landowners further. We believe that farmers who have been on the same land for generations have a historical understanding of the issues of nature-friendly sustainability; after all many of the most damaging practices have only been in place for the last four or five decades, and many farmers will know better than most what has been lost.
We have more drop-in sessions in the pipeline and will also be organising a number of focused workshops so that we can start to develop further the ideas and suggestions proposed during the last round.
We are also able to come and give talks to your group/community council etc. We’ve given three talks on the project recently, to:
- Penglais Nature Park AGM
- South & West Wales Wildlife Trust
- Agri Academy
- … and a number of community councils
Please do sign up for the newsletter to hear about future events, and if you’d like to be in touch do drop me an email (I’m Siân, the project’s Community Engagement Coordinator): email@example.com I’m available for in-person chats and cups of tea too!
Over the next weeks we will be updating this website with more information on all aspects of the project, including the next steps of the process, more ways to be involved, and more detail on our bumpy journey so far. We will be setting up social media accounts, and sending out regular updates too. Come back soon!
As well as these main concerns and hopes, many people made suggestions of things the project could get involved in, and we are going to be developing these ideas in open workshops over the next months.