By Wendy Jacob
Grazier, Mynydd Y Gwair
Our agricultural heritage is the sum achievement of farming activity over many thousands of years and is preserved both in landscape and livestock. Here, on the mountains of North Gower we are, as farmers, very aware of our environment and rural heritage, and strive to protect this legacy by balancing tradition with a necessary modern approach to the future.
Farming practices in this area are innovative and progressive. Farms have embraced the genotyping of sheep as a necessary, positive step for the industry. There is participation in the NSP scheme for the testing of purebred males, plus the breeding females, through WEGS I, EGS and WEGS II. Registered and purebred flocks actively performance record both through the MLC Signet sheepbreeder programme and the Sire Referencing Scheme. There is a Farming Connect discussion group central to the area, a registered marketing co-operative has been setup with grant assistance and together with an Objective 1 project for the Electronic Identification of sheep, farms in this area are at the cutting edge of progress and agricultural development. This is no small achievement in a Less Favoured Area, classified severely disadvantaged. Heavy financial investments, attention to detail, hard work, business acumen and respect and understanding of the land are attributes well demonstrated throughout the area, ensuring sustainable development. Through these investments we are enabled to compete effectively in an increasingly competitive market.The foundation stone of this success is an efficient farming system tried, tested and developed over generations, a key and critical component of which is the survival of traditional hefted flocks and herds, on a balanced scale. This balance, and the subsequent viability of farming businesses, currently faces a huge threat with the proposed erection of a wind power station. Mynydd Y Gwair has the appearance of a raised beach; it is outstandingly beautiful and stands testament to responsible agricultural grazing practices. This uncultivated land should not be subjected to development pressure; it is a non-renewable resource that should be protected. Primarily wet and podzolic grade 4 and 5 land this high mountain heath is fragile and vulnerable. Scaring where the surface area is broken, does not easily heal due to the peaty nature of the soil. Where disturbance occurs, and this can clearly be demonstrated from remnants of military activity in the area, during the second- world war, the indigenous sward is irredeemably destroyed, being replaced by rush.
This proposed development would bring about the collapse of the hill farming system in the area, together with the way of life of the local community. In practice, disruption to existing, structured agricultural usage of the common would substantially damage businesses and cause serious loss of income and hardship.
The value of hefted stock is immeasurable. Disturbing a hefted flock/herd from its established grazing area will damage the whole common. If stock from the proposed construction area relocates then this has a knock-on effect over the whole common. Livestock on the fringes of the common would be under severe grazing pressure and the whole common would suffer an imbalance. Under-grazing and over-grazing issues would come into being. Sheep, with inbred knowledge of their walks or ‘arosfa’, driven to wander and unable to cleave to the familiar, would be under considerable stress. Enforced competition with contiguous flocks will have a negative impact on nutritional and health status. Hierarchy will govern distribution of stock and disturbed flocks are likely to become fragmented and dispersed over a wide area. Inability to check livestock on a daily basis will contravene welfare and farm assurance requirements.
Disruption to hydrogeology and the water table cannot be overlooked both in terms of common sense and in view of documented facts. This could be catastrophic, both for holdings whose springs source in the area and in the availability of water, as known to the grazing animals.
A major concern is that unsettled stock will be more inclined to stray onto the public highway and exasperate an already high incidence of road traffic accidents. Road users will also be at risk from sun-strobe. It is feared that access roadways would aggravate existing problems with off road vehicles, motorbike scramblers, stolen cars, racing, fly tipping, rustling and malicious damage. Individual farmers and the West Glamorgan Commoners’ Association dedicate considerable time to having to deal with these issues.
This mountain landscape is our heritage; moreover, it is our place of work. Our ability to carry out our work and responsibilities on the open hill, safely and efficiently will be compromised. Gathering sheep from the open hill requires skill, knowledge, ability and good working sheepdogs. Welsh Mountain ewes, bred for good mothering and survival instincts are notoriously difficult to gather, particularly with their lambs at heel; dogs are essential. Dogs are worked by commands, which requires that they hear given directions, frequently at substantial distances. It is essential when gathering livestock from the hill that road safety is not compromised, by indiscriminate crossing of animals over the public highway. A wind power station will detrimentally impact on these issues.
Mynydd Y Gwair is an oasis in an industrialised area. The highway dissecting this mountain range carries heavy traffic burden, being a direct route between the Ammanford and Swansea areas. The route, at the Swansea end, rises in close proximity to Morriston Hospital’s A&E unit. The road is single track, winding and undulating to 1200 feet above sea level, before dropping sharply into Betws, Carmarthenshire. This is not a remote, little used common. It is of paramount importance to appreciate that this natural recreational resource is central to busy towns, villages and only twenty minutes from Swansea City centre. Developing such a power station could have health and safety implications for the public as well as the farming workforce. Any imposed risk, even minimal, is unacceptable in a working environment and raises liability issues.
The potential for damage to investment and devaluation of assets will equate to a huge financial loss that no business can be expected to suffer, and will have to be the subject of legal challenge. Valued contributions to income are currently achieved through Tir Mynydd and the contribution of hill grazing to Extensification is significant. Good farming practice and environmental cross compliance are essential components of area support; of which common grazing is a recognised element. This development would impinge on the ability of graziers to fulfil their moral and statutory obligations to the care of their livestock.
In conclusion, this proposed wind power plant would have a negative effect and cause unacceptable harm to progressive farming businesses both financially and practicably. Environmentally beneficial good husbandry practices would be compromised or fail completely.
It is frequently quoted in agriculture, and epitomises the dedicated commitment to farming vocation, “Live like you’ll die tomorrow but farm like you’ll live forever.” We abide by this philosophy and would chose, to leave our heritage to enrich and benefit future generations. This will not be achieved by allowing the rape of this area and the destruction of the very essence of hill farming.