Media Briefing - 14 April 2006

Workshops on benefits of wildland

Peter Taylor reflecting on the messages of the day

A field trip the next day to Cors Fochno

Wildland in Wales
benefits, opportunities and examples - 7, 8th April, Machynlleth


Welcome, introduction and scene setting: emerging ideas and opportunities for wildland in Wales (Stanley Owen)

Read Stanley's scene setting introduction here.

Mapping wildland (Dr Steve Carver, Leeds University)

Download the PowerPoint Show here (PPS 2,679kb)

How do you get discussion on the values and weightings relating to wild land?

Involving local people in mapping and debate allows them to input to discussion, to shape the issues, and they can become advocates for the features and values expressed in the maps.

There is a challenge to capture coastal wildness and seascape in wildland maps.

Need to distinguish wild land from solitude.

Note the correlation between wildland maps and the absence of light pollution.

Do ‘wild’ and ‘natural’ criteria need to be distinguished more?

Note that ‘natural’ is a human construct.

Do we know about people’s changing perceptions of the notion of ‘wild’ through time, other than as expressed in art and literature?

Scale and context must allow for local perceptions of what is wild.

To what degree do people notice different types of intrusions in wild land?

Potential for species reintroductions in Wales and the role of wild mammals in natural processes (Derek Gow)

Do we need more riverine environments before reintroducing beavers?

No – beavers create their own channels and adapt woodland and woodland canopies.

Recent cases of beaver reintroduction in Southern England:

Ham Fen, Kent: beavers used as management tool by Kent Wildlife Trust. Defra demanded a licence permission and took many months to process it – meanwhile the young beavers died in quarantine.

Lower Mill Estate, Wilts: Six beavers have a Defra licence at a lake and woodland with electric fence in Cotswold Water Park area. The private landowner was prepared to negotiate for a licence in a robust way with Defra.

Discussion on benefits of red kite in Wales (Rick Minter)

Some of the benefits of red kite…

‘Wow factor’ – a charismatic creature to wonder at.

Aesthetic – it brightens up the area.

Attracts visitors – this brings specific income and extra income.

Ecological – an integral part of the food chain.

Gateway to interest in wildlife and the landscape –it attracts people’s attention and makes them think about the related wildlife and landscape.

Branding for the area – its iconic symbol is used by many enterprises such as cafes, visitor enterprises, County Council logo etc.

Has the total direct and indirect income and worth of red kite to mid Wales been calculated?

Are there any disbenefits from red kite? None suggested.

Economic regeneration and wildland - Cambrian Mountains (Jeremy Wright, Powys County Council)

Jeremy Wright described current Powys County Council thinking in relation to certain wild land issues: Farm subsidies are on the way out, so farm incomes and therefore part of the local economy are under threat, particularly in upland areas. The local authorities in the Cambrian Mountains are looking for new ideas for economic regeneration in the area, which might involve changes in land use. Initiatives that capitalise on the wild character of the Cambrians and enhance their wildland qualities might prove valuable as economic drivers, through tourism and other sources of income, as well as providing other far-ranging benefits.

Discussion points…
The population is more mixed, dynamic and globalised then we tend to think – it may not be helpful to aim policies at a perceived local indigenous stereotype population.

But, Many farms are similar in demographic make up and are based on families long-rooted in the area. It may be helpful to understand the degree of indebtedness of these farms.

The Cambrian Mountains landscape can be enlivened and made more vibrant through wild land projects. This may or may not help the Welsh language.

The environment of the Cambrian mountains is recognised as an important economic driver.

How can pressures for centralisation of services and policy making be overcome?

Schools can be helped to celebrate and promote the wild and undeveloped cultural value of the Cambrian Mountains.

Examples of current wildland projects and activities in Wales:

Vyrnwy Estate (Richard Farmer, RSPB)

Download the PowerPoint Show here (PPS 1,732kb)

Richard Farmer described their upland reserve on the Vyrnwy Estate in the Berwyn Mountains. Covered by many designations – SAC, SPA, SSSI - the estate was originally managed for shooting, with periodic burning to refresh the heather. It is now being managed for the return of wading birds, cutting the heather rather than burning, reducing sheep numbers and introducing Welsh ponies. The biggest change to the landscape has come from blocking the drainage grips with rolled bundles of mown heather, rewetting the very dry blanket bog.

Nantgwynant, Snowdon (Keith Jones, National Trust)

Download the PowerPoint Show here (PPS 2,174kb)

Keith talked about two National Trust farms at Nantgwynant, Snowdon that he described as being in good condition compared to the surrounding area - the natural gems amongst their holdings, and offering the contrast of a changing lowland mosaic with the larger upland farm. The farms are managed “in hand” (not tenanted) and have recently acquired organic certification, although Keith bemoaned a lack of integration between food production standards and the land management needs of clearing invasive species such as rhododendron. Keith talked of the possibility of re-embracing transhumance i.e. the transfer of livestock between uplands and lowlands.

Workshops on benefits of wildland (facilitated by Rick Minter)

Discussion following report back from small groups’ conclusions on wildlife, recreation and economy benefits of wild land (see link above left to the separate tables for these reports)…

Wild land and Wildness provides a range of services for society which have very tangible benefits covering economic, health, cultural, environmental, and resource management issues. These services and benefits need to be expressed and promoted clearly to people and to policy makers. If these benefits are not understood or appreciated then wild areas may become repositories for unpopular development and infrastructure.

How can perceived problems of wild land and reintroductions be overcome? Demonstration projects are one way.

Note the close linkage across wild land and wildlife benefits.

What packages of activity and experience for wild land would work in Wales (recognising that hunting, shooting, fishing and golf is one way in which Wild Scotland is promoted to certain markets)?

Wild land adds value to many economic activities, even though it may not be fundamental to their viability.

Will people flock to see ‘Welsh Wilderness’ rather than have an exotic overseas holiday? Climatic factors may play a role here, esp if and when other exotic destinations become uncomfortably hot.

Visitor income is not the only incentive for wild land projects, yet much of the discussion has assumed it is the dominant incentive.

How can added value be created from wild places without detracting from their wild character?

How can interpretation be achieved for wild places as well as allowing people to have the real experience.

There are pros and cons of virtual environments and related interpretation.

What do we want in the uplands and who decides?

Partnerships and cooperation can make things happen.

Making things happen also needs political influence.

How can land be acquired in order to influence how it is managed?

Are agri-environment incentives one approach, or are these just a short-term feature?

Pressures in society and the economy which result in the extinction of real and outdoor experiences are a key challenge and threat to wild places and people’s wellbeing. This is a huge long-term task.

There is scope for redirecting public support and funds to harness benefits for people from countryside and from wild land.

What are the population challenges associated with wild land and what are their consequences?

The impacts of incomers can have severe consequences for centralisation and for spending elsewhere out of the area.

Money is flowing off farms rapidly. Farmers markets and local marketing can help blunt this trend.

Sheep numbers are declining – this is a positive trend for wild land objectives.

Where are the tree lines in Wales?

How should people’s attitudes and perceptions of more extensive and regenerating vegetation be surveyed? Will people be content with a less open vegetation in upland landscapes?

The single farm payment could make radical changes to Upland Wales, including environmentally and socially positive ones.

There must be potential to harness Euro money for wildland projects in Wales.

The Water Framework Directive will prompt some land management objectives to be pursued on a catchment basis in Wales.

The new Environment Strategy for Wales declares an action to plan for ‘tranquil areas’. Tranquillity relates to the therapeutic and quality of life benefits of the landscape.

Countryside Council for Wales has declared it will be planning for large-scale landscape restoration projects.

How can the identity of the Cambrian Mountains be promoted more effectively?