Welsh Hill Sheep Breeders Take Part in a Pioneering Environmental Project

Over 20 hill sheep breeders across Wales will take part in a pioneering environmental project looking to see how their flocks’ food production works hand in hand to enhance biodiversity and reduce carbon emissions.

The environmental auditing programme, to be launched at a reception for farmers at the Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) stand at the Royal Welsh Show on Tuesday 19 July, will evaluate where Welsh upland farming stands in terms of its environmental credentials, and what scope there is for further improvement.

Farmers taking part in HCC’s Hill Ram Scheme were all offered the opportunity to take part. The Scheme is a key component of the EU- and Welsh Government-funded Red Meat Development Programme, designed to ensure a vibrant and sustainable future for agricultural communities in the Welsh uplands.

One of the 22 Welsh hill ram breeders that has signed up to the auditing project says: “I’m keen to see on paper how improving our environmental credentials is benefitting Wales’ rural landscape.”

Ben Williams, 29, who farms in partnership with his family at Garth Uchaf Farm on the outskirts of Cardiff says: “As Welsh farmers we have done a lot of environmental work over the years. Here, in Pentyrch, we’ve laid new hedgerows, planted 6000 native trees and created small ponds. This will be our opportunity to see the fruits of our labour recognised and evidenced on paper.”

Using the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) Good Practice guides, specialists will carry out in-depth environmental audits on each farm, looking specifically at the carbon and biodiversity elements.

Since 2018, Hill Ram Scheme farmers have been using DNA-based technologies to record the performance of hill flocks, enabling farmers to use genetic data to breed selectively to improve farms’ commercial performance and environmental sustainability.

Heather McCalman, Project Delivery Co-ordinator at HCC, said: “We now want to evaluate key elements of sustainability on these upland farms including an audit of greenhouse gas emissions and a wider environmental audit that includes biodiversity.

“Our work to date has seen over 50 farmers working to select stock based on the performance records of sheep that thrive in the hill environment. The scheme has been very successful and we’re particularly pleased to have seven different ram breeds taking part in the scheme.”

The first phase of the environmental project on the 22 farms will concentrate on biodiversity, where a habitat survey will be carried out at each farm to identify the habitats and features present on the farm’s land.

Heather McCalman added:

“We anticipate that the overall results will highlight the positive impact of grazed sheep (and cattle) in the hills and uplands of Wales for the benefit of, not only the environment, but food production within Wales.”

Farmer, Ben Williams, said:

“We’re in the final year of the Welsh Hill Ram Scheme, and I’m looking forward to seeing our 600 flock of Welsh mountain breeds further develop. We’ll now see the figures we’ve been collating build to our advantage, as we develop the efficiency of our flock to enhance the meat we produce.”

HCC’s Hill Ram Scheme is one of three 5-year projects in the Red Meat Development Programme which is funded by the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.