Sustainable land, water and air

Image by Peter Lewis

These Area Statements summarise discussions from the last couple of years. We are continuing engagement on Area Statements and are adapting our plans for future events and workshops due to the coronavirus pandemic. Please use the feedback boxes on each Area Statement page to find out more.

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Why this theme?

Mid Wales, predominantly the counties of Powys and Ceredigion, are amongst the richest parts of Wales for landscape, nature and ‘wilderness’. Agriculture employs a large number of people and influences the area far beyond the farm gate. It provides food for Wales and the world; it provides associated employment in numerous rural businesses, the public sector and tourism; it creates thriving communities and a sense of place spanning different generations. Farmers are integral to Mid Wales, its culture and its landscape.

sunset against hills with sheep in foregroundImage by Peter Lewis

Much of the Mid Wales landscape forms the characteristic exposed upland moorland with scattered forestry plantations. Typically this landscape is classed as ‘agriculturally less favoured’ land, and historically has been undervalued for its importance in providing vital ‘ecosystem services’ – biodiversity, water storage, carbon storage and recreation to name but a few. Traditionally the uplands have been used for rough grazing of sheep and cattle and lower lying areas in Ceredigion have a greater abundance of dairy herds. Arable farming is scattered throughout the lower lying areas. 

As rural farm businesses look to diversify, poultry units have become increasingly popular on many farm holdings, with large incentives from the food sector. Whilst this has clearly benefitted the agricultural sector, there have been harmful impacts on the natural environment as a direct result of the significant increases in ammonia and nitrates from the volume of manure generated. While ammonia air pollution emissions have generally stabilised across the UK, they have increased significantly in Mid Wales largely due to this expansion in poultry numbers. Wales is now the largest producer of free-range eggs in Europe. This trend is continuing as rural businesses continually have a need to diversify.

Ammonia is toxic to native plants and habitats, and its accumulation and spread in the natural environment can lead to significant damage to habitats and species loss. Ammonia pollution from the increasing number of intensive agricultural units is now a very significant threat to the survival of the rich variety of rare pollution-sensitive lichens scattered throughout Mid Wales. Urgent measures are required to address this ongoing threat to our natural environment.

Hay meadow with forestry in the backgroundImage by Rhys Jenkins

Water is one of our most essential natural resources. We need to balance the water needs of the environment, society and the economy, both now and in the future.

We face a number of challenges which will have an impact on our water resources and the way they are managed. These include population growth, an increased national demand for water and climate change.  

With the high prevalence of intensive agriculture, the potential for environmental incidents caused by slurry related pollution is a significant problem in Mid Wales. Whilst the vast majority of farm businesses operate responsibly with respect for the natural environment, accidents can still happen, often as a result of old farm infrastructure, when slurry or other pollutants leak and enter the river systems, damaging habitat, killing aquatic life and polluting our water supplies.

The source of the River Severn, the UK’s longest river, lies in the heart of Mid Wales. The River Severn provides water resources to large areas of England and Wales. Llyn Clywedog and Llyn Vyrnwy are used to regulate the flow in the Severn to ensure water resource availability. The River Wye in south Powys is managed in a similar way. Water is released from the Elan Valley Reservoirs to provide public water supply to much of the West Midlands. There is increasing pressure on the water resources of Mid Wales to provide for an ever expanding population.

Fish leaping out of waterImage by Peter Lewis

In addition to managing our water resources, coastal and fluvial (from rivers) flooding continues to threaten our communities, businesses and environment, as witnessed in the winter of 2020. The communities and agricultural land along the Ceredigion coast are particularly at threat from rising sea levels. Sea defences offer some protection to  coastal assets. But the long term protection of these vulnerable areas pose serious challenges to both communities and policy makers.

Natural Flood Risk Management (NFRM) is one way to help address flood risk. NFRM can provide environmentally sensitive approaches to reducing flood risk in areas where further hard flood defences are not feasible or cost-effective. These can include tree planting, in-stream obstructions (such as porous dams), soil and land management, dune and beach management and creation of new wetlands. The principal aim of adopting NFRM measures is to help slow water flows (‘slow the flow’) through a catchment, thus reducing and delaying peak flows. It is often most effective in larger catchment scale projects.

As incidents of flooding are set to become more frequent in the future as a result of climate change, the communities of Mid Wales need to become more adaptive and resilient, enabling them to respond more quickly to events through better planning and management.

The main areas of focus under this theme are:

  • Support farm businesses through ways of working that minimise impacts on the environment

  • Take measures to reduce pollution incidents through better management of potential sources of pollution (such as slurry & manure stores)

  • Work with businesses, communities and policy makers to review current agricultural policies and schemes and explore new options for Payment for Ecosystem Services

  • Manage our water resources to improve the quality and quantity of available water, without causing detriment to the natural environment

  • Help to create adaptive and resilient communities in response to adverse weather events and climate change

By giving this theme a particular focus, it does not exclude any emerging ideas or new ways of addressing issues that may arise. It is simply to serve as a platform, upon which work programmes, external projects and collaborative working can develop.   

What would success look like?

It is clear from engagement events and conversations that farmers understand the land under their stewardship and place great value on it. They are aware of the generations that went before them and how they adapted and nurtured their farms. They now look to future generations to diversify and manage their land sustainably.

The Mid Wales Area Statement will allow conversations to happen. Farmers, land managers and stakeholders will come together to reach a consensus and achieve a combined understanding of what needs to be done and how it will be tackled. Together, we will develop solutions that have benefits for both agriculture and the environment.

Good practice already seen across Mid Wales should be celebrated whilst looking for innovative ways to address challenges.

There are still opportunities to discuss further how to shape these changes, but if the correct outcomes are delivered under this theme, we can hope to see:

  • Farmers and land managers being custodians of the environment

  • Supported sustainable farming practices that minimise pollution and maximise environmental gain

  • Appropriate space for both agriculture and nature

  • Better nutrient, soil & water management planning within the agricultural sector

  • Reduction in the impacts of air pollution (nitrates and ammonia) on our natural environment

  • Improved management of our water resources - balancing the demands of our water supply with the needs of the environment

  • Natural flood risk management applied as a practical and viable option that compliments traditional flood risk approaches

  • A change in approach of how we work - leading to a better understanding of the need to work together

Who have we worked with to date?

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) worked on a range of information including the State of Natural Resources Report (SoNaRR) which forms part of our evidence base and the Welsh Government’s Natural Resources Policy priorities. We also took information from the Powys & Ceredigion Well-being Plans and the Public Service Boards (PSBs) to find out their priorities and obtain their expert local knowledge.

We took the ‘bare bones’ of what we considered to be main issues for Mid Wales and let stakeholders tell us if we’d ‘got it about right’ during external stakeholder engagement workshops held in 2019/20. These workshops are only the start of engagement work and we will keep the conversation going. Similar, ongoing engagement will be vital for us as this Area Statement matures and evolves.

In total, over 125 participants took part in the two workshops, from a wide range of backgrounds and interests. 

The purpose of the stakeholder engagement events were;

  • To pool together different organisation’s and individual’s activities under the heading of the Area Statement

  • To ask participants to commit to the iterative Area Statement process

The events encouraged discussion around the type of projects and areas of interest that stakeholders are keen to work on. We want to encourage and progress opportunities for collaboration. We hope that this will enthuse and enable different stakeholders to work together to achieve shared outcomes. Our next role will be to coordinate ideas going forward.

The Area Statement process is iterative, and the next stage will continue to develop and implement actions for Mid Wales. 

It is very clear from the engagement and the review of feedback that the Area Statement process is new for everyone, including Natural Resources Wales, and as such will require an adjustment in the way of working by us all. This new way of working represents a significant shift in how NRW has worked in the past, both internally and with our stakeholders, in everything that we do.

We need to continue to engage and help stakeholders understand why they have been invited to be part of this Area Statement and what it will mean for them. 

The next focus will be to set up a series of ‘peer group’ meetings in spring 2020 to encourage the people who took part in previous engagement workshops to give further focused input. We need expert and local knowledge on each theme. We would like to discuss with our stakeholders how together we will start to deliver the opportunities identified in this Area Statement. If you have not been involved in these discussions before, it’s not too late if you have an idea for a good project. We expect further opportunities to arise as the engagement process continues.

It is important to stress that this Area Statement belongs to us all. Everyone who wants to be involved can be and we would like to encourage as many as possible to come aboard. We see Natural Resources Wales’ role as helping to bring people together at this stage. We want to encourage and enable different stakeholders to help us identify priorities and progress them into actions and delivery.

Many of the participants from the engagement to date already have well established working relationships with NRW and with each other. The engagement process enables opportunities to build on established relationships and create new ones.

What are the next steps?

It will take long term commitment from us all to achieve real change.  Collectively we need to develop a way to work together to tackle environmental issues as a society. This can already be seen across Mid Wales in the numerous projects that already exist. We want to celebrate and build on everything that is already being done, and use this Area Statement as a vehicle to bring people and organisations together to promote collaboration and encourage joined-up working on different projects.

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) has begun to identify networks where projects with similar outcomes can be combined and worked on collaboratively. There is a particular intention in Mid Wales to bring together stakeholders who may not have traditionally worked alongside each other, but together can deliver outcomes which have multiple benefits for everyone.

Throughout 2020 NRW will continue to work with stakeholders to develop these networks and establish them as a new way of working in Mid Wales.

The potential opportunites that have been identified so far relating to this theme are:

  • Develop a series of collaborative projects between farmers and stakeholders to gain a better understanding of the issues and reach outcomes with mutual benefits for all

  • Develop catchment and landscape scale approaches to tackle pollution at source

  • Implement better manure management on farms - working with the industry, farmers and decision makers

  • Improve the evidence base to better assess and manage the health of our soils and encourage practical measures to reduce soil erosion

  • Work across sectors to maintain, improve and restore water quality and river habitat

  • Explore opportunites for innovative Natural Flood Risk Management (NFRM) schemes within our landscapes and catchments

  • Work more collaboratively to ensure our communities and assets are protected, now and for the future

How does what we’ve proposed deliver Sustainable Management of Natural Resources (SMNR)?

The State of Natural Resources Report (SoNaRR) uses evidence to assess Wales’ natural resources and measures how well these are being managed. Area Statements are a key part of that management.

This Area Statement will allow us to make decisions based on evidence that is shared. Gaps in evidence can be plugged through working together and using the available data to further the objectives of each theme.

The underlying principles of SMNR are the essential element of the Area Statement process. Through engaging with stakeholders, we have been able to work together to identify the area themes for Mid Wales. Conversations and discussions have given us an understanding of the issues and pressures faced by different stakeholders, sectors and communities. We hope that this approach signals a new way of working for Natural Resources Wales where we move away from ‘consultation’ and towards ‘collaboration’ and action, even if that remains an uncertain journey for many as we start out with the Mid Wales Area Statement.

How can people get involved?

Join us on Facebook! This Facebook group is one way for you to keep up to date with news and developments on the Mid Wales Area Statement. Anyone can join in the online discussion. The group is currently set to private, although we encourage you to spread the word amongst colleagues and contacts who you think would be interested. You will be asked three simple questions to join the group to ensure we keep the members and content relevant to the Mid Wales Area Statement.

We will also be holding further events and developing specific groups and conversations around each of the Mid Wales themes. If you are already on our mailing list, you will be contacted about these. If you would like to be added to this list, please email

We are only at the beginning of the journey as we work with people to improve the management of Mid Wales’ natural resources. If you would like to be part of this process, please get in touch with us.

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