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2 Ensure land and water in Wales is managed sustainably and in an integrated way

Fresh water West - photographed by Ian Medcalfe

Where are we now?

Around 90% of the land area of Wales is used for either agriculture or forestry5, while the marine environment represents 41% of the territory of Wales6, extending out to 12 nautical miles1.

Land and water (including the marine area) are not always currently managed in an integrated way, and although water and air quality has improved in some cases over recent years, there is still a long way to go before we are managing all Welsh land and water sustainably. For example:

  • All but one of the designated Welsh bathing waters met the standards set by the Bathing Waters Directive in 20161. However, 63% of freshwater water bodies failed to achieve good or better overall status in 2015 as defined by the Water Framework Directive1. Pollutants from abandoned metal mines impact on 700 kilometres (nearly 435 miles) of Welsh rivers: nine of the ten worst metal-mine polluted catchments in the UK are in Wales7
  • Air quality has generally improved since the 1970s. However, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter pose a substantial public health danger particularly in urban areas and at major roadsides1. Air pollution impacts negatively on over 74% of Welsh habitats8
  • Soil quality has shown some improvements in woodlands and some recovery in peatlands and remains fairly stable under other land uses. Soils in Wales store an estimated 410 million tonnes of carbon1
  • The area of woodland in Wales is 306,000 hectares (about 756,000 acres) made up of 156,000 hectares (about 385,000 acres) of broadleaved trees and 150,000 hectares (about 371,000 acres) of conifers. Although new planting increased between 2009 and 2014, the rate fell in the year to March 20169

Where do we want to be long term?

Land and water in Wales will be managed in a fully integrated way to reap multiple benefits. This will be regarded as the norm with differing uses – for farming, forestry, fisheries and the urban environment – considered holistically.

Water catchments will be considered in their entirety, including surface and groundwater, and from source to sea. Water quality and quantity (floods and drought), and air quality, will have been improved, benefiting both people and ecosystems, and we will make the best use of our water resources as set out in Welsh Government’s Water Strategy for Wales10. Soils will have been safeguarded so that they can store carbon, control drainage, recycle ‘waste’ materials – and continue to be productive. Ecosystems will be more resilient – while land owners and businesses adopt a joined-up approach to sustainability and are supported to do so.

There will be more accessible greenspace and increased green infrastructure in and around our urban areas. Woodland cover will have increased substantially with more woodland planting and more woodland brought into management. Characteristic species and habitats will be valued and recovering. The national priorities identified in the NRP are fundamental, and examples of nature-based solutions, informed by SoNaRR, will have been turned into practical action on the ground and will have been tackled at the most appropriate scale.

NRW will be seen as an advocate for the economic, social and cultural benefits that integrated land and water management can provide, as well as the environmental benefits. We will put this approach into practice on the land and water we manage ourselves.

What will NRW do up to 2022 to help make this happen?

Lead by example

  • Demonstrate SMNR in practice on the 7% of Wales’ land and water we manage ourselves including NNRs, the Welsh Government Woodland Estate (WGWE) and our flood defences – monitoring and reporting the effectiveness of our approaches
  • Try out new approaches to land and water management making use of our new experimental powers and monitoring the results
  • Complete the review of the WGWE and begin to implement the findings
  • Restock about 1,800 hectares (about 4,450 acres) of WGWE each year with both conifers and mixed broadleaved species
  • Deliver a compensatory planting programme to replace woodland loss. Increasing woodland cover and bringing more woodland into management is a priority both within SoNaRR and the NRP
  • Develop a climate-change risk-management strategy for NRW-managed land with an associated evidence base
  • Make sure our regulation services – permitting, compliance and enforcement – support an SMNR approach

Working with our partners

  • Work in partnership with business, industry and land owners – particularly within the agriculture and forestry sectors to encourage an SMNR approach on the land and water we don’t manage ourselves – to ensure ecosystem resilience is improved and the benefits to the people of Wales are optimised
  • With the Welsh Government, influence the design and subsequent use of the post-Brexit rural development plan, its environmental scheme and its monitoring and modelling
  • Work with local authorities and other partners to develop green infrastructure, including woodland planting, particularly in urban areas
  • Support the Welsh Government in the development of the Marine Plan and Marine Transition Programme
  • Support the Welsh Government in developing its National Development Framework
  • Bring water bodies into good ecological status by 2027 as per the EU Water Framework Directive
  • Tackle pollution from abandoned metal mines to help restore 700 kilometres (435 miles) of affected rivers to good ecological status
  • Develop a reformed and sustainable abstraction licensing system and work with partners to ensure surface and groundwater catchments can cope with high and low flows in periods of flood and drought
  • Help water companies develop their long-term investment plans
  • Support AONB partnerships and National Park Authorities which extend over 25% of the land area of Wales

Indicators for Wales: How will we know if anything has changed?

  • Water quality in Wales National Indicator3
  • Forest coverage (sustainable management in Wales) NRW/Welsh Government data9
  • Individual action taken by people to protect the environment - National Survey4

Rachel Chamberlain I am passionate about our trees and woodland. They form part of our landscape and heritage and our work is providing benefits both now and for future generations with places to work, play and relax, as well as providing valuable habitat to support many species

Related document downloads

Our Plan to 2022 - Easy read Looking after nature now for our children to enjoy PDF [16.8 MB]

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