Agriculture covers 81% of Welsh land – this makes farmers among the most critical stakeholders in Welsh Land Use policy. Meeting the demand for food, improving biodiversity, reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and also adapting to climate change is a huge challenge.
The Welsh Government established the Glastir sustainable land management scheme to help balance these needs, providing farmers and land managers with financial support to implement environment-friendly practices.
To provide continuous feedback on Glastir the Welsh Government commissioned the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) to lead a parallel Glastir Monitoring and Evaluation Programme (GMEP) in partnership with 20 other organisations.
Specialist teams survey 300 1km squares across Wales over four-year periods, collecting data on greenhouse gases, freshwater quality and biodiversity, pollinating invertebrates, birds, habitats, soils, landscapes and historic features. These surveys provide evidence of change in response to Glastir and other pressures such as climate change and air pollution.
CEH and partners combine this information with historic data from other specialist monitoring programmes, providing an invaluable integrated understanding of the whole ecosystem. Models developed during GMEP forecast the improvements Glastir management expects to deliver so that adjustments can be made to maximize impact.
Outputs from GMEP include the application of new molecular techniques for soil biodiversity, mobile flux towers for measuring greenhouse gases, and a unified peat map for Wales to improve targeting of payments when negotiating Glastir contracts.
Other GMEP outputs include a Priority Bird Species Index for Wales for monitoring long-term trends, a Visual Quality Index for quantifying assessing change in the quality of landscapes, and a fine resolution predictive map of Annual Net Primary Productivity (i.e. plant growth) for Wales using a combination of remotely sensed data and plant trait modelling.
Research from the GMEP partnership has already provided feedback on the early stages of this national scheme. Analysis of the first set of baseline data alongside long-term historic data indicates stability for the Glastir outcomes, with little evidence of improvement other than headwater stream quality, greenhouse gas emissions and woodland area for which there has been improvement over the last 20 years.
Some other headline findings include:
- 91% of streams had some level of modification but 60% retained good ecological quality
- no change in topsoil carbon content over last 25 years
- 51% of historic features in excellent or sound condition
- two-thirds of public rights of way fully open and accessible
- reductions in national nitrate leaching, nitrous oxide and methane emissions of 5-10% could be achieved by withholding nitrogen fertiliser and reducing stocking rate on larger improved grassland areas
- modelling forecasts indicate a potential reduction in flood generating land of 1-9% through implementing the ‘creation of new streamside corridors with trees planting’ and ‘extension of existing woodland edge’ Glastir options
- 10% of Wales has good provision of two or more co-located ecosystem services, while 28% has the potential to gain more than it would lose in service provision if intervention measures were implemented.
This integrated analysis of the whole ecosystem, incorporating environmental, social and economic analysis, allows for a robust analysis of trade-offs and co-benefits of the different management options.
"GMEP is regarded as an exemplar of good practice. This programme has been identified at the UK, European and International level as being at the forefront of the ecosystem approach to evidence capture and scheme evaluation.”
Deputy Minister for Farming and Food, Wales.
"The reliable, robust scientific evidence gathered by GMEP allows the effectiveness and the value for money of Glastir to be monitored which is extremely important, especially for farmers and land managers to see what is being achieved through being in the Glastir scheme.”
NFU Cymru Rural Affairs Board Chairman.
The Welsh Government
Environmental surveys across Wales. Innovative new monitoring and reporting methods.
Exemplar monitoring and evaluation of agri-environment schemes