A Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) report published today on behalf of a wider consortium* for Welsh Government reports on early findings of the impact of the Glastir land management scheme and long-term trends in the Welsh countryside. Evidence from over 50 indicators collected in a major field survey campaign suggests there have been many improvements in the Welsh countryside for people and nature over the last 30-40 years.
The report found there are two to three times more indicators improving (26-30%) than declining (8-14%) in the short and long term, with the remaining 60% showing no change.
Real success has been seen in the improvement of blanket bogs over the last two decades which has been the focus of so much restoration action. Improvement has also been seen in stream water quality and there is now overall stability in bird diversity and specialist butterfly species, with improvements in woodland and upland breeding bird populations. Overall, plant species richness and those indicative of good condition are stable or improving in woodland, open habitat and improved land. More public rights of way are now easy to use.
Remaining areas of concern are just under half of our Historic Environment Features are under some type of threat, 35% priority bird species remain in decline and only a minority of ponds are in good ecological condition. Soil quality is generally stable, but with some early warning signs of some potential problems which need to be monitored going forward.
Impacts of the Glastir scheme
These data provide a robust baseline to assess future impacts of the Glastir scheme. Glastir is the main mechanism by which the Welsh Government pays for environmental goods and services.
To assess the effect of entry into the scheme on farmer actions, a survey of 600 farmers was carried out. The results show 54% of farmers in the Glastir scheme, compared to 37% outside, are taking action to combat climate change. More actions by farmers in scheme are also taking place to improve diversification and efficiency.
Modelling work to explore the benefits of these actions suggest more concerted and targeted action is needed to meet the ambitious targets set by the Welsh Government for the sustainable use of our natural resources. However, the field survey suggests land which has come into the scheme has more characteristics thought to help make land more resilient to disturbances and stress.
The Glastir Monitoring and Evaluation Programme (GMEP) was commissioned to measure its success, providing the Welsh Government with early feedback as to its likely performance and a robust baseline for future assessments.
The Glastir scheme has six key objectives:
- climate change mitigation
- improvement to soil and water quality
- a halt in the decline of biodiversity
- improved woodland management
- greater access to the Welsh landscape and condition of historic features.
The GMEP team comprises a mix of organisations, with different specialisations*, covering the different schemes’ activities, objectives and outcomes. This multi-organisation approach is an example of the partnership working encouraged by the Environment Act Wales to deliver positive environmental outcomes.
Informing management of the Welsh countryside
Professor Bridget Emmett, lead author of the report and Head of CEH’s Bangor site, said, “GMEP builds on long-term monitoring schemes, including CEH’s Countryside Survey, to provide a powerful insight into changes of the Welsh countryside over the past 40 years. Nature can be slow to respond and these long-term data will help to put into perspective future changes resulting from Glastir payments.
"The results illustrate the many benefits already delivered by farmers and land managers across Wales, but also that more concerted and targeted action will be needed if ambitious targets from Welsh Government are to be met.” Prof Bridget Emmett, CEH.
James Skates, Welsh Government, said, “The Welsh Government is proud of the Glastir Monitoring and Evaluation Programme which provides a lasting legacy for future evaluation of Glastir and other Welsh Government programmes and policies. GMEP has established a robust evidence base to inform the wider management of the Welsh environment.”
Hedd Pugh, NFU Cymru, Rural Affairs Board Chair, said, “Over many years Welsh farmers have embraced the conservation agenda and they take their environmental responsibilities seriously. This is demonstrated through their active participation in Glastir which includes a ‘broad and shallow’ scheme supplemented by a targeted approach, where appropriate.
"Farmers manage 80% of the land area of Wales and continued delivery of environmental action on the ground is, therefore, reliant on farmer participation. To ensure this, it is vital that farmers have the confidence that the actions they are contracted to undertake through agri-environment schemes are effective and deliver the desired outcomes. GMEP, with an evidence-based approach to monitoring and evaluation to demonstrate the impact of interventions, is central to this.”
The report concludes by highlighting the need to establish the relationship between the area and condition of our natural resources and the health and well-being of the wider population, as well as highlighting the potential value of the GMEP findings to inform the Welsh Government’s response to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU with respect to future regulatory frameworks and land management schemes.
The full GMEP final report, which includes information on methods used, statistical approaches, data tables, figures and maps, is available on the GMEP portal.
*The Welsh Government funded Glastir Monitoring and Evaluation Programme is led by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology on behalf of the following partners: ADAS, APEM, Bangor University, BiodiverseIT, Biomathematics and Statistics Scotland, Bowburn Consultancy, British Geological Survey, British Trust for Ornithology, Butterfly Conservation, Ecological Surveys Bangor, ECORYS, Edwards Ecological Services Ltd, Freshwaters Habitats Trust, Staffordshire University, University of Aberdeen, University of Southampton, University of St Andrews, University College London and Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand