Introduction to Mid Wales Area Statement
Mid Wales is an area covering about a third of...
Image by Peter Lewis
Since the Area Statements were published in March 2020 they have naturally evolved to reflect post-pandemic priorities for our environment across Mid Wales.
There has been a focus towards enabling and empowering communities to develop their own resilience, with support, to help tackle the climate and nature emergencies at the local scale.
It’s a well-known fact that woodlands and trees provide a variety of benefits to society. They help regulate our climate, provide income and jobs from timber and other activities, store carbon, reduce flood risk, safeguard soils, improve air quality, reduce noise and even regulate pests and diseases. They play a major part in pollination, nutrient cycling, soil formation, water cycling, carbon storage and oxygen production, all of which are crucial to supporting ecosystems and human life. It is now widely recognised that there are significant positive links between mental and physical well-being and trees and green space in urban areas.
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Here in Mid Wales, we have a diverse mix of woodland and forestry resources including large-scale upland conifer forests, small scattered native woodlands and shelterbelts, estate woodland, wood pasture and parkland habitats. The Welsh Government Woodland Estate (WGWE), which is managed by Natural Resources Wales (NRW), extends over 50,000 hectares of publicly owned land (85% of which is designated as open access land), making a valuable contribution to our environment, economy, social health and well-being. In Mid, we have the highest productive forest holding in Wales, providing 350,000 cubic metres of timber every year to Wales’ wood processing industry (almost 40% of the certified timber originating from the WGWE). This contributes significantly to the rural economy, supporting several wood processing companies. The extent of forests in Mid Wales needs to grow annually, ensuring that we will continue to have a sustainable forestry resource in the future.
Habitat loss and fragmentation of native woodlands in Mid Wales has been going on for over 1,000 years, mainly as a result of clearing land for agricultural production. During the 20th century, large areas of the remote uplands gave way to forestry planting, much of it on areas of deep peat, which inadvertently caused damage to the delicate upland peatland habitats. Many of these forestry areas remain in private ownership. These WGWE woodlands are generally dominated by Sitka spruce, Douglas fir, larch and pines as well as an increasing number of native broadleaf and mixed forest on lower lying ground.
Despite the rich forestry resource in Mid Wales, as a country we still import 63% of softwood and 94% of hardwood timber. Forecasts of future timber production in Wales show a reduction in current levels if we fail to utilise more areas and increase woodland cover. In recent years, felling due to tree diseases has affected the forest landscape, although in some places conifer forests have been replaced with broadleaved trees, enhancing the environment. Unfortunately, tree diseases such as ash dieback will have a significant effect on the many species of wildlife associated with ash woodland.
Image by Ian Medcalf
Grazing management is a key issue with many woodlands, particularly so in the characteristic upland oak woods of Mid Wales. Regarded by some as the ‘Welsh rainforest’, 60% of the native woodland area in Mid Wales comprises upland oak woods, recognised for their high biodiversity and cultural value. However, a combination of re-growth following extensive 20th century wartime clearance felling and an interruption in traditional management has resulted in many woodlands lacking appropriate management, resulting in poor condition and lacking structural diversity, whereby all the trees in the woodland are even-aged.
Pollution also affects woodlands, a significant factor being nitrogen deposition. This can affect natural habitats from both local and remote sources, for instance agriculture (local source) and heavy industry (remote source). The upland oak woods with their high diversity of lower plants (delicate mosses, lichens and bryophytes) are especially vulnerable to the effects of nitrogen deposition.
Climate change will inevitably affect Welsh woodlands in the future, with current predictions suggesting a likely increase in pests and diseases. A potentially drier, warmer climate in some areas may impact on existing species such as Sitka spruce, but also present opportunities to plant high yielding species such as Douglas fir in the uplands.
While Sitka spruce is undeniably one of the most economically important forestry crops in Wales (and natural regeneration can benefit the forest industry), self-seeding outside forest boundaries can have a damaging impact on the surrounding open upland habitats and protected sites.
The main areas of focus within this theme are:
(*ensuring that important areas that are already storing carbon, support priority habitats and species, and ensuring protected sites are not planted with trees where there are negative effects on the interest of the site)
The above list of points are designed to provide guidance and help set priorities, for projects and collaborative working. By approaching these focus areas together, we will also be helping to tackle the Climate Emergency at the local scale. This list of focus areas is by no means exhaustive and do not exclude any newly emerging issues, ideas or solutions. We want to encourage communities to develop innovative ideas for their own community wellbeing initiatives
Well-managed woodlands contribute significantly to connecting habitats across the Mid Wales landscape. The forestry and woodland estate is vast. As such, it provides ideal opportunities to work with landowners, farmers, conservation groups and the forestry industry to enhance natural habitats, manage timber resources sustainably and promote the health benefits of recreation & access to communities.
Through the engagement events we listened to stakeholders and heard their stories and lived experience of mass forestry creation of the past, forestry skills that run through families, and current and future threats. We have also heard how, working together, landowners and managers can benefit from the need for increased tree cover, providing the issue is approached from a different angle.
This Area Statement lays the foundations for the following new approaches to be taken:
Through the Area Statement, we want to work with and help support landowners to adapt to the new Sustainable Farming Scheme proposals to enable benefits for the people, communities and environment of Mid Wales.
In the development of the Area Statement, NRW used a range of evidence based resources, including the State of Natural Resources Report (SoNaRR) and the Welsh Government’s Natural Resources Policy. We also sourced information from the Powys & Ceredigion Well-being Plans and the Public Service Boards (PSBs) to join up with their priorities and Wellbeing Objectives, based around local need.
Despite many sectors being well represented, NRW is aware that we need to continue to broaden the appeal of Area Statements beyond the ‘usual suspects’. Communities and the non-environmental sector must be involved. We have always recognised how important engaging with communities is, and we are in the process of considering how best to do that in order to make the most of the opportunities that have been discussed to date. We are working to encourage and support these communities to come together to help shape and deliver the Area Statement for the benefit of everyone.
It is very clear, judging from our engagement to date and the feedback we’ve received, that the Area Statement process represents a culture shift. Everyone, including NRW, is going to have to adjust to this new way of working. It’s a challenge, but one we all need to embrace for the future sustainable management of our natural resources.
We will continue to engage with stakeholders, helping them understand why they have been invited to become part of the Area Statement process, along with what it means for them.
NRW are working as part of the Ceredigion and Powys PSBs to deliver the wellbeing objectives at the community level.
The PSBs have undertaken a Wellbeing Assessment to understand the specific issues and priorities within their local communities. They produced a Wellbeing Plan with definitive Wellbeing Objectives, set out to improve the well-being of communities. The current wellbeing plans & objectives run from 2018-2023
The 2022 review of the Mid Area Statement is designed to update this core text to reflect the natural development of the Area Statement over the first two years. The changes since initial publication demonstrate how the area statement process has naturally evolved, based on ever-improving evidence from both NRW’s work and stakeholder input. Our engagement will continue as the Area Statement matures, develops and evolves.
Good practice should be celebrated and learned from. This can already be seen across Mid Wales in the work being led by stakeholders. Going forward, the Area Statement requires us to continue to share information and understanding, and together coming up with innovative ways to address challenges. NRW has already begun to identify networks where projects following similar paths can unite and collaborate. We want to encourage stakeholders who traditionally might not have worked together, to join up and explore the potential to deliver better outcomes through joint working. The Ceredigion and Powys PSB’s have adopted this approach in delivery of their functions; in Ceredigion developing a number of ‘sub-groups’ to tackle social, environmental, cultural and economic issues at a place level.
Over the coming months and years, we would like to see projects and opportunities develop to deliver:
There will be opportunities for financial support to deliver projects and ideas through Natural Resources Wales’ grant funding system. Please contact us for further details of the current grants available, or see NRW’s grants page.
The Area Statement takes an evidence-based approach. We need to continue to build our evidence base for Mid Wales, to enable better decision making for the future. Gaps in that evidence can then be plugged by working together, using available data to further the objectives of each theme.
By talking to stakeholders, we’ve been able to work together identifying themes that really reflect the issues within Mid Wales. Those conversations have given us a better understanding of the issues and pressures we face. We hope this approach signals a new way of working for NRW, moving away from consultation towards collaboration. It may be an unfamiliar journey for some, especially to begin with, yet given what’s at stake it’s a necessary one.
One way of finding out more will be through our Mid Wales Facebook page which contains news and developments surrounding the Mid Wales Area Statement.
We will also be holding further events and conversations around each of the Mid Wales themes. If you are already on our mailing list, you will be contacted about these. If you would like to be added to this list, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
We need to continue to develop the Area Statement together, to tackle the nature emergency in Mid Wales. The Area Statement belongs to us all - everyone who wants to be involved - and we would like to encourage as many as possible to come aboard at any point to help develop the Area Statement as a continually evolving process. If you would like to be part of this process, please get in touch with us.
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