Food, Farming and Countryside Commission

Carbon neutral upland farming

By Dafydd Morris-Jones

Cambrian Mountains

Tymawr is a traditional Welsh upland farm extending to 157ha of hill land in the Cambrian Mountains, split between two-thirds moorland and one-third permanent pasture grassland, including traditional haymeadows and two small larch plantations.

The farm has a flock of 550 Welsh Hill Speckled Face Sheep and we’ve been in consecutive agri-environment schemes since the 1980s. We also operate a small-scale low impact campsite, catering for outdoor activities and events. Our farm is a rich mosaic of habitats, which has been safeguarded and maintained due to our continued, unbroken use of traditional livestock and land management practices – keeping the best elements of past practice and adapting them for the present.

We maintain the floral diversity of our haymeadows by making hay or haylage so that the seeds fall back to the ground. Maintaining the fertility of the haymeadows is also essential for diversity, and the winter forage more than pays for the additional nutrients. The peatland and moorland on the farm are maintained by carefully managing the stocking density at different levels during the year, and molinia and spruce encroachment is addressed mechanically. We have never drained our peat bogs, but stopping rushes, trees and molinia from encroaching on the habitat allows us to maximise their biodiversity and carbon sequestration potential. We have also undertaken work to plant and re-invigorate our hedges and woodlands.

In 2018, 21 farms from the Cambrian Mountains area undertook a carbon footprinting exercise, with many finding that their practices are carbon neutral or better – carbon negative. We’ve compared our farming methods and our land type with these farms and are confident that our farm operates at least as carbon neutral, though more likely carbon negative when the annual sequestration levels of our land are taken into consideration.

We’re proud to produce carbon neutral food and wool as well as the environmental benefits from an extensive upland farm, yet there are a few factors that frustrate our ability to do more:

  • The unviability of hill (beef) cattle on our holding (due substantially to the 30 month slaughter regulations) causes a number of issues which increase our CO2 output, including: lack of farmyard manure creating a dependence on fertilisers; the lack of differential grazing on the hill which necessitates the mechanical removal of molinia and spruce saplings; the lack of heavier footed livestock to benefit the wetlands in the lower fields.
  • The inflexibility of the prescriptions within our agri-environment schemes has led to significant under-grazing of some areas on the hill, and consequent over-grazing of some of the pasture at different times of year. It has also made it impossible to react to changeable or extreme weather events in a manner which prioritises both habitats and livestock.
  • The cumulative effect of consecutive agri-environment schemes has affected the business’ financial resilience and has made investing in alternative income streams (e.g. renewable energy) difficult.

Considering these limitations, the best advice I could have given my younger self would have been to be more assured of my own assessments of our future needs, both in terms of secure (non-subsidy) income streams and energy, and be bolder in creating infrastructure to produce power on-farm.