Mid Wales wilderness scheme 'not targeting farming'

By Steffan Messenger
BBC Wales Environment Correspondent

Image source, Ben Porter/Summit to Sea
Image caption,
Farmers have raised concerns about the "rewilding" project

Backers of the UK's biggest "rewilding" project in mid Wales have insisted the scheme is not about stopping farming.

The plan aims to restore a massive stretch of landscape so that it can support native trees, plants and wildlife.

But farmers and landowners in the area that is due to be restored have questioned the project's motives.

"Summit to Sea" has secured £3.4m of charitable funding and is set to appoint a director to lead the work.

Media caption,
What this "rewilding" project will involve

However, both Welsh farming unions have voiced concerns about the scheme and Dyfi Valley councillor Elwyn Vaughan called for more discussions with the community.

"We have a number of concerns locally and are pushing that they should rename the project - dump the 'rewilding' bit - and have positive discussions so that there's a sense of ownership and participation within the area," he said.

Rory Francis, campaigns manager for Coed Cadw - the Woodland Trust in Wales, said: "It's an ambitious project which hopes to work over 10,000 hectares.

"It's not about stopping farming, it's about working with farmers to do positive things that will make a difference like restoring peat bogs, ancient woodland and planting new areas of native trees in the landscape to act as corridors for wildlife."

Image source, Ben Porter/Summit to Sea
Image caption,
Llyfnant Valley is part of the scheme

The charity is working alongside Rewilding Britain for the project.

The funding, secured over five years from the Arcadia Fund's Endangered Landscapes Programme, will be used to pay existing landowners and farmers to restore habitats.

They aim to create a swathe of "nature-rich" land, stretching from the Pumlumon massif, the highest area in mid Wales, down through wooded valleys to the Dyfi estuary and out into Cardigan Bay.

It is hoped the area will become a haven for rare and endangered wildlife, including the pine marten - which was reintroduced there in 2015.

Mr Francis said: "If we want our children and grandchildren to enjoy and experience wildlife we need to provide habitats for them and we're hoping this project can be part of the answer."

Image caption,
Councillor Elwyn Vaughan said wants to "dump the 'rewilding' bit" of the project name

There was a mixed response to the project from farmers at Dolgellau mart.

Dafydd Jones, from Ponterwyd, said: "At the moment we have no idea what kind of projects we're talking about, and will they be appealing to farmers or not?"

Tegid Jones, who farms near Machynlleth, also questioned the aims of the project.

Mr Francis admitted consultations had been limited because funding had only recently been secured.

"We're hoping that, at the end of the day, we'll have a sustainable, resilient landscape which is still producing food and keeping people employed on the land," he said.

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