Identifying and supporting HNV farming in east Carmarthenshire
Wales has not as yet completed development a HNV farmland indicator, although work is now in progress. This project, funded by the Countryside Council for Wales and DG Environment, aimed to investigate a range of datasets to assess their suitability for use in HNV farmland identification and monitoring. East Carmarthenshire has a range of geological, soil, topographical and socio-economic conditions and was chosen as a test area.
Semi-natural vegetation is central to the HNV farmland concept. The Habitat Inventory of Wales (HIW), which is reaching completion, was tested on a range of field sites and found in general to be a reliable mapping tool for such vegetation, with the greatest inaccuracies on small fields with tall hedges.
Given this apparent reliability, the project found that the use of additional datasets to make up for habitat mapping deficiencies would be necessary only in a narrow range of circumstances. They are however essential to indicate the presence of Type 3 HNV farmland, which is not dependent on semi-natural vegetation. The project did not however find any such dataset for the project region.
At the landscape scale, the CCW Habitat Networks mapping project provides a very interesting approach. It is essential that ways to strengthen its applicability to policy delivery are investigated and developed urgently, particularly in the context of the next CAP programming period.
At the farm scale, the amount of useful data already stored in the CAP Land Parcel Information System (LPIS) data was investigated. Potentially this data base can be used for identifying farmland with HNV-relevant characteristics, such as small field size. A draft farm-scale decision tree for identifying potentially HNV farming systems has been proposed and needs field testing with real farm data.
Overall, the project suggests there is considerable scope for developing an effective and sufficiently accurate system for identifying HNV farmland in Wales, through integration of existing data bases. HIW would be the core of such a system. A degree of integration of HIW with LPIS would allow considerable enrichment of the latter policy management tool, and potentially more complete HNV farmland identification. Such a system would also provide the basis for effective monitoring of HNV farmland, although complementary methods such as use of Countryside Survey or a stand-alone sample survey system should also be considered.
The project also considered the extent to which existing policies are effective in supporting the maintenance of HNV farmland in the case study area. This assessment was informed partly by a series of farmer interviews.
Outside protected areas, conservation of HNV farming currently depends mainly on the application of instruments within the CAP, notably agri-environment schemes. These instruments, however, do not appear to be well targeted at high nature value farmland areas. Within this study HNV farming areas and in particular smaller holdings get relatively little recognition and financial incentive and where semi-natural land was seen to be managed in favourable condition, personal motivation and a sound knowledge in extensive farming was a key factor.
The low financial incentive to join agri-environment schemes is partly as a result of the EU regulatory requirements that agri-environment payments can only be made for cost incurred and income foregone. This is most apparent on smaller farms with a high dominance of high nature value land, where there is a lack of financial recognition for existing habitats (existing environmental goods and services). There are particular problems associated with managing small fields, especially the control of scrub and bracken encroachment, which agri-environment schemes often are not able to address effectively.
Given the considerable achievements of grant schemes for capital works, and in order to support HNV farmland wherever it occurs, financial support needs to go beyond what has developed to be the ‘traditional’ scope of agri-environment schemes, for example, offering support to those who are not strictly farmers but none the less are landowners managing their land to conserve and enhance its biodiversity, and as a result are ensuring the delivery of the ecosystem services that HNV farmland can provide.
It is widely recognised that a proportion of HNV farmland lies outside management by agri-environment schemes or of designated sites. There are also farms and landowners that are not part of whole farm schemes for a variety of reasons.
There are also issues with Pillar 1 that work against the maintenance of HNV farmland. The fact that scrub habitat is excluded for eligibility under the SPS causes considerable problems. There is a confused message from government to landowners, in that scrub is valued under one payment scheme (agri-environment) and disregarded and liable to penalty if not declared as ineligible for payment under another (SPS). This could be avoided if scrub vegetation was reconsidered to be included eligible for SPS. Pillar 1 rules to limit the decline of permanent pasture are ineffective at protecting semi-natural grasslands for a variety of reasons.