Countryside Exchange, The Clwydian Range, Wales
INTERNATIONAL COUNTRYSIDE STEWARDSHIP EXCHANGE
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY OF THE 1996 UK EXCHANGE
The CLYWIDIAN RANGE, WALES
The Clwydian Range of hills in the north-east of Wales marks the divide between the Dee Estuary to the east and the Vale of Clwyd to the west. The long, undulating range of hills stretches 22 miles from the urban fringe of Prestatyn in the north to the rural beauty of Nant y Garth in the south.
Several imposing hill forts dating to around 400 BC are situated on the top of the Range, through which the Offa’s Dyke path runs. The Clwydian Range was designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1985. Farming continues to shape the landscape of the Range and serves as the main economic activity within the area. In 1994 a larger but corresponding area was designated an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) with the aim of encouraging farmers to operate in a way that is environmentally aware.
The AONB designation is generally welcomed by those who are aware of it. However, many remain confused as to what the designation means and its relevance to them. There is resentment among some farmers who feel the designation was imposed and simply brings planning restrictions which discourages change and progress.
Tourism is a key element of the local economy, but there appears to be little co-ordination between AONB management and local tourism agencies. There is antagonism between farmers and visitors over Rights of Way use. This conflict can potentially block tourism developments as landowners resist increased access to their land.
There are many grant aid schemes available, most notable the ESA. Although valuable in some respects, there are problems with the ESA. Payment levels are often insufficient to compensate farmers for the scheme’s restrictions or the investment required. ESA is perceived as an imposition and interference from the authorities and the application procedure is bureaucratic and time consuming. ESA information is not written from a farmer’s perspective and some farmers are still unaware of the ESA. Additionally, the whole farm approach can be off putting for farmers and once signed up there is little advice or support for implementation. Overall, the ESA is too inflexible and reactive.
The traditional landscape is also changing as farming intensifies. Conifer plantations and improved pasture dominate the view while the enclosure pattern of the vales becomes partially redundant as larger, economically viable farms develop, with the remainder offering only a partial income or being run as ‘hobby’ farms.
The grant system is in effect attempting to halt or eradicate the signs of modern farming, potentially producing an unworkable landscape stuck in the past. Without a strategy identifying how the landscape can be maintained as an economic asset, there is a danger that communities will disintegrate and ultimately the AONB will become a pastoral museum dependent on grant aid for its survival.
- Trends in agriculture and the influence of grant aid over the last 30 years.
- The degree and variability of grant aid take-up among the community.
- Grant aid and likely future trends in agriculture.
- Tourism and rural economic regeneration.
- Increasing public access.
- The need for a sustainable framework for co-operation between the diverse interests working within the AONB.
Information and education for visitors and residents is a priority, and should aim to develop an understanding and appreciation for the AONB, local agriculture and the natural and cultural resources of the region. Specific projects could include the production of a land ownership map, and a landowner newsletter which provides “news from the AONB”.
A review of the whole grant system would assist in the future development of agricultural and economic regeneration grant aid. Specifically the Team suggests that there is much potential to integrate agricultural and rural economic development grant aid with the various tourism and leisure programs.
Consultation with farmers and landowners should take place to collect comments, criticisms and suggested improvements about the ESA. This would form the basis of a constructive representation to the Welsh Office Agriculture Department as part of the review of the ESA scheduled for 1998.
A Moorland Management initiative is proposed as the focus for an integrated landscape and wildlife conservation program. A new AONB working group should be formed to promote and undertake this project. This program should start with a community planning process and must be accomplished by action on the ground.
Where development is appropriate, applicants should be given technical aid so that it becomes an asset to the AONB landscape. The planning process should be viewed as a positive tool for making necessary change within the area rather than purely a system for preventing change.
Local individuals and communities should be consulted during the planning process. Citizen leaders, not necessarily elected officials, need to be identified early on in the process to act as gatherers of information, reviewers of the work and the sounding board for practical solutions. Citizen involved strategic planning results in creative, workable solutions that are owned by the public and can be implemented by a developing stewardship.
The Team also recommends a Cultural Landscape Study be completed for the Clwydian Range. A study needs to be made to develop awareness of the patterns and relationship among the physical elements and human use. This will assist long term planning that recognizes the full value of the landscape to local people.
©2002 Glynwood Center