November, 2017


Welcome to this group for all farmers and anyone with an interest in farming. Read our blog to see how we're working with farmers and to find out where you can meet us at events.


Find out more about how we're working with farmers and others to provide space for farmland nature in the landscape. Join in the discussion on farming issues and share tips for wildlife-friendly farming.
  • Tree sparrow success

    Farmer Nicholas Watts has been providing habitat for wildlife on his farm in Lincolnshire for many years. This year, his continuing efforts were rewarded when over a thousand tree sparrows were fledged, and ringed, on his farm. 

    Read more about how Nicholas has achieved such success on Farm Wildlife.  

  • Update - Upland Farming Conference Wales

    A conference organised by RSPB Cymru, Bangor University and Cynidr Consulting was held in Llanrwst on 15th March 2017 to discuss the future of upland farming in Wales. The first of its kind, the conference saw over 150 delegates, including farmers, their representatives, conservationists, policy experts, academics and Government officials, all coming together to consider the future of land management policy in Wales.

    Here, Rhys Evans, Policy Officer for RSPB Cymru, brings us up to speed on what's happened since.  

    Farmers discuss their views at the conference. Image: RSPB

    The event examined possible implications of leaving the European Union, the impact of Wales’ new environmental and sustainable development legislation (Environment Act 2016 & The Well-being of Future Generations Act 2015) and future policies on upland farming. It sought to engage the farming sector in thinking about and developing a post-Brexit sustainable land management approach that integrates rather than separates agriculture.

    Nant Ffrancon valley. Image: Rhian Pierce

    Guest speakers included:

    • Kevin Austin: (former) Head of Agricultural Strategy and Policy Unit at Welsh Government
    • Professor Peter Midmore: Aberystwyth University’s expert in agricultural economics
    • Arfon Williams: RSPB Cymru Land Use Manager
    • Tony Smith and Hefin Jones: Representing the uplands farming organization, Fairness for the Uplands.
    • Guto Davies & Sorcha Lewis: Upland farmers from Ysbyty Ifan and the Elan Valley
    • Gwyn Jones: Chief Executive of the European Forum on Nature Conservation and Pastoralism
    • Patrick McGurn: Project manager AranLIFE and member of BurrenLIFE project team - Republic of Ireland.

    The conference presentations can be found on the Bangor University website. Furthermore, a booklet titled “The future of upland Farming in Wales” was made available for delegates and wider distribution. The booklet is also available on the Bangor University website in both Welsh and English.

    One of the key messages that came out throughout the day was the potential for upland farmers to manage their land in a way that provides much wider public benefits than just food production; because by creating a healthy natural environment, land managers help to provide things like clean drinking water, clean air, carbon storage, attractive landscapes for people to enjoy, and habitats for wildlife. These things in turn boost our rural economies and our health and wellbeing. Farmers should be rewarded for providing these services to wider society alongside their role as food producers. However, any new policy must be good for farmers, wider society, the environment and nature alike. This will require unprecedented cooperation, and a joined up sustainable land management policy involving a wide range of partners.  

    Hafod Las cattle. Image: Guto Davies

    An interactive question and discussion session offered farmers the opportunity to discuss and contribute to future policy developments. A report based on the findings of a stakeholder’s workshop was sent to Lesley Griffiths, Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs, highlighting attendees’ key issues, concerns and priorities for the Welsh Government to consider when they develop future policy.

    Key issues included:

    • A clear vision for the Welsh uplands is needed to guide the direction of future policy. 
    • Continued financial support for the uplands, albeit in an improved form, is essential: a smooth transition to whatever replaces the Common Agricultural Policy will be vital. 
    • With the right support, upland farmers and land managers are also keen to provide a large number of other benefits, including new primary agricultural products, adding value to existing produce, and providing environmental services such as enhancing and maintaining habitats for wildlife, clean water and energy generation.
    • Relationships between all the actors and stakeholders must be improved, with genuine co-operation and partnerships being built on mutual trust. 
    • Policies that are developed to achieve the vision for the uplands should be flexible, farmer- or locally-led and avoid excessive paperwork and bureaucracy.

    Troedrhidrain - High Nature Value. Image: Sorcha Lewis

    The Cabinet Secretary’s response letter mentioned:

    • WG wants full and unfettered access to the EU marketplace for Welsh farmers, and are seeking reassurance from the UK government that at least equivalent funding is provided to replace what is currently being received through the CAP.   
    • It is also likely that the existing 2 pillar approach to farming will end to be replaced with a genuinely strategic and integrated approach to delivering a sustainable rural approach.  
    • WG officials are in discussions with farming groups and other government departments around the UK and Europe gathering information on farmer led, results based payment schemes with a view of exploring the practicalities of adopting such an initiative in Wales.  

    RSPB Cymru’s Land Use manager, Arfon Williams, said “What was most striking on the day, was that despite everyone coming from different perspectives and with different ideas, it wasn’t about our differences, it was all about ‘how can we work together on this, how can we build a brighter, stronger future for the uplands’? It became clear that in order to achieve the future everyone aspired to, we really do have to work together in partnership.”

    The conference, it seems, was the first step on that journey.

  • Life as a tenant farmer at Geltsdale

    Ian Bell is tenant farmer at RSPB Geltsdale in the wet and windy North Pennines where he grazes sheep and cattle. Here he talks about his experience of farming on the reserve.
    Two years in to taking on the farm tenancy at RSPB Geltsdale and I’m still relishing the challenges of farming a large upland nature reserve.

    Ian Bell, tenant farmer at Geltsdale. Image: Steve Westerberg
    Over the past few months, I don't think it has stopped raining for more than four days in a row which makes everything in farming much more challenging to say the least.
    The sheep were late getting clipped, as trying to organise contract clippers to coincide with the sheep’s fleeces being dry isn't easy. I only just managed to make enough silage to get through the winter and the wet weather has meant it’s been very difficult to get on with topping rushes. On a more positive note, the stock have done really well over the summer months and I'm looking forward to getting the cows in soon and the sheep off the hills ready to be tupped.

    Cattle grazing at Geltsdale. Image: Ian Ryding
    Grazing cattle on the moorland edge has been a new experience for me. The areas are remote, the weather harsh and the grazing rough but I’m pleasantly surprised how well the animals have fared. A suitable breed is essential and I brought in a herd of hardy shorthorn highlands and sim-luing cattle for that are bred for extreme conditions. The RSPB are keen to increase the cattle numbers on the hill to help create a new patchwork of habitats for a range of birds and other wildlife, and now we have around 100 cows in several herds grazing up to an altitude of 500 metres from June through to November. I can see the effects they’re having, breaking up stands of bracken, trampling rushes and knocking back the rough grasses.

    Geltsdale cattle. Image: Ian Ryding
    Seeing them out on the fellside on a fine day is a joy and one of my favourite parts of the job. The birdlife here is tremendous and I regularly see black grouse, short eared owls and curlews when I’m out checking the livestock. The presence of an osprey around the tarn this summer has been a real treat as I remember having to travel to the Highlands to see them as boy. Hopefully the bird will return next year with a beautiful young wife.
    Find out more about how we are helping nature through farming at Geltsdale here.