Countryside Management in Practice
Dates Monday 20 - Friday 24 September 2010
Theme All Change for Rural Land Use - Implications for Countryside Management

The Study Tour will be based in Aberystwyth and is scheduled for the week before registration week in September. This 10 credit module will be credited to semester 1 and comprises five full or part day excursions to sites around Wales that demonstrate the strategic policies of key organisations and individuals and how they translate into practical countryside management. On days with shorter excursions, complimentary briefings and workshops will be organised at IBERS, Llanbadarn to aid interpretation and understanding of the information.

General introduction Today there are unprecedented challenges for countryside management that must be appreciated and understood and that arise from several factors:
• Significant reductions in public funding
• Reform of agri-environment schemes and the single farm payment to farmers (introduction of Glastir in Wales)
• An ageing population of farmers and the breakdown of succession within small family farms
• Merger of Government Agencies dealing with Agriculture, Forestry and the Environment
• Failure to achieve the 2010 ‘Halt the Decline in Biodiversity’ target and the setting up of the Environment Strategy for Wales
• The urgent expansion of land-based renewable energy production
• Increasing consideration of Ecosystem Services delivered by the rural environment
• Efforts to sustain rural communities and services.

The visits of this Study Tour will be designed to describe the multiple challenges affecting land use that are having fundamental consequences for countryside management for the following objectives:
• Habitat and wildlife species conservation
• Scenic integrity of landscape
• Access and recreation
• Tourism and visitor management
• Environmental education
• Maintaining rural communities.

Historic consequences of land use to maximise production

The post-war era of single objective land use was very successful at increasing the productivity of the forestry and agricultural sectors. Unfortunately, the technological drive and increased efficiency came at a cost:

• the reduction and loss in quality of the semi-natural habitats that supported British wildlife and contributed to our distinct scenery;

• the decline of rural communities as mechanised methods replaced tasks formerly carried out by large numbers of manual, unskilled workers;

• expensive subsidies increasingly led to levels of production beyond demand for basic commodities;

• and for agriculture, the inflated prices paid to farmers for grain, sugar beet, milk and meat encouraged high inputs of agrochemicals.

The consequence to society of the ‘productionist’ policies by the 1980s was a cheap price for food at the shop counter but hidden costs in tax paid as:

• subsidies to producers,

• increasing costs for storing food surpluses such as grain and butter mountains

• clean up costs for water polluted with nitrogen fertilisers and pesticides

• increased costs for providing public services to a dwindling rural population.

Water run-off rates were also affected by the expansion of conifer forestry in the hills because the ploughed drains led to rapid run-off of water after heavy rainfall. Increased stocking densities leading to short turf on the hills and cultivated farmland in flood plains also increased flood risk and incidence. The annual fall of needles in conifer plantations created a lower pH in watercourses and diffuse pollution by nitrogen from farmland disrupted freshwater ecology, most notably game fisheries.

Can we justify continuing to manage large tracts of hill land primarily for one objective - extensive livestock production? 

Conserving wildlife, habitats and landscape

We are aware that various environmental and social policies have been implemented since the 1980s to address the consequences of such single objective land use. Nature conservation proceeded by acquiring remaining sites where populations of rare wildlife could be found (National Nature Reserves), or by designating privately owned land under farming or forestry to encourage sensitive management where special plants, animals or fungi remained (Sites of Special Scientific Interest). National Parks and lesser landscape designations were established to protect landscape character by encouraging traditional farming practices. The National River Authorities, later national environment agencies, e.g., the Environment Agency, Wales, were formed to tackle pollution by regulating the amount of animal waste or excess fertiliser run-off entering water courses. The new European Water Framework Directive demands much higher standards for water quality and the restoration of the ecological integrity of watercourses. Forestry has to some extent changed priorities and integrated wildlife, landscape and recreation objectives into certain forest areas, moving away from low quality softwood, blanket monocultures in the recent harvest and replanting cycle, at least in prominent locations. For the social function of the countryside, in general, regional development organisations failed to counter the decline in rural employment and rates of pay and there was a continued decline of rural communities and services. This has been exacerbated in areas popular for tourism because of the demand for holiday homes and the greater purchasing power of urban incomers and holidaymakers compared with rural workers. Thus, there has been investment in rural housing stock but little to no contribution to rural communities through a commensurate demand and sufficient resources available for schools, post offices and retail services.

An Ecosystem Approach

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment demonstrated that 'biodiversity' was not an incidental luxury affected by land use and management. It was not simply about conserving rare and declining flowering plants, birds and butterflies where there was a willingness of society to pay for any lost forestry and agricultural production. Instead, clear relationships between biodiversity and ecosystem health were demonstrated where it was clear that biodiversity was an uncosted benefit that underpinned the continued outputs of food, fibre and other services from our use of land. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment has clearly demonstrated the dependency of human existence on biodiversity, not just those services which have a market value but others which make a fundamental contribution to health and well-being. These “Ecosystem Services” will be explored during the study tour as a detailed framework for appreciating the strategic level changes to policy affecting land use in the different sectors.


Registration and house keeping

Programme for study tour

  Assignment briefing and information
  Visits - images and information
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