Objective 3: Improve the sustainability of high nature value traditional farming systems

3a – Elan Hay Meadows

Across the UK, 97% of our traditional wildflower meadows have been lost. Elan, however, is home to many upland hay meadows - including a coronation meadow - all of which are a wonderful sight in full bloom and are of enormous benefit to pollinators. Elan’s meadows retain fantastic floristic diversity and insect life but scientific studies have shown that appropriate management such as liming and occasional applications of farmyard manure are needed to keep these meadows thriving. This project will work with farmers to make sure our hay meadows continue to thrive in the future.

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3b – Elan Rhos Hay

Rhos (or ‘moor’) hay production is a traditional practice to the Elan Links area of Mid-Wales. In times gone by rhos hay has been cut in August / September on the open hill, and used as feed and / or bedding for cattle and sheep during the winter months. Only one or two farmers still continue this tradition. However, the practice is beneficial for nature by ensuring greater diversity of management on the open hill and can also have economic benefits for the farmer where there is a suitable use for the cut hay.  This project will encourage rhos hay production by farmers and deliver farm-scale investigations into the best ways of making and using the hay in order to generate a more economic and sustainable product. In so doing, we will reinvigorate this practice which is so important to our cultural and natural heritage.  

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3c – Elan Ram Scheme

Elan already has its own sheep breed – the Elan Valley-type Welsh Mountain, the characteristics of which have evolved through generations of shepherding and hefting on the open hill. Changes in agricultural policy and market conditions have put the unique qualities of the breed at risk. The aim with this project is to develop a co-operative sheep breeding scheme amongst Elan farmers to ensure that breeding stock with the qualities of hardiness and hefting instinct needed to thrive on Elan’s open hill are maintained for the future.

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3d – Elan Cattle Grazing

Traditionally, small-scale cattle keeping formed a key part of farming in Elan, but today, only a handful of farms continue this practice. We know that having cattle grazing extensively on the open hill and on some enclosed habitats is hugely beneficial for nature – helping to maintain an open sward where a host of different plants, fungi and animals can thrive. We want to encourage Elan farmers to carry on keeping cattle, to keep more cattle and to graze cattle on key habitats where they can be most beneficial for nature. This project will support farmers to do this by helping to overcome some of the barriers that exist to cattle farming.

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3e – Elan Wethers

Wethers - castrated male sheep were once traditionally kept as a key part of the mountain flock in the Elan Links area. Wethers are tougher than the ewes and are able to guide the flock to safety or to find food in the hard winter months. For this reason they are known locally as ‘the kings of the mountain’. Recently, the lack of a defined market for wethers has seen the loss of this type of animal from our hills. However, wether meat is delicious and in this project we will pilot its promotion through local outlets such as Elan’s visitor centre and local hotels. The project will see if sustainably produced wether meat production could become a component of Elan’s farming systems and local farming culture once again.

Furthermore the Woodland Project (1c) within the Elan Links programme has identified a need to re-introduce grazing in a number of broadleaved woodlands to help control ground vegetation.  It is proposed that wethers, as stronger animals, could have a role to play without becoming entangled in briars.  

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