People and the Landscape 3

Agriculture in the last hundred years

Apart from that land which is covered by water, the physical landscape of the Cambrian Mountains was, until the 1940s, almost exclusively given over to agriculture. Agriculture it was therefore that shaped that landscape, by clearance of scrub, by drainage, by grazing and by human occupation. The changes that have taken place since the war – and the changes that threaten in the future – are largely associated with the decline of agricultural prosperity and employment.

agri1These changes include:

bullet Forestry. In the post war years it was thought that in such “marginal agricultural” areas as the Cambrian Mountains the need for and financial viability of forestry products outweighed the requirement even for food. The massive expansion of coniferous forestry was often resented by farmers but they lacked the support of the rest of the community. Now, the expectations of financial viability of that forestry are known to have been misplaced, whilst its damaging visual, social and wildlife implications have become obvious for all to see.
bullet Depopulation. One of the most obvious features of the physical landscape is the abandoned farmsteads. Visually they are often attractive, but behind that attraction lies the human story of decline and abandonment, with its corollary of the disappearance of schools, shops and community.
bullet Changed farming systems – in particular the expansion in sheep numbers and the contraction or disappearance of other agricultural activities, especially cattle and pony grazing, with consequential implications for wildlife diversity.

Expectations are that financial pressures on agriculture will be at least as intense in the future as they have been in the past. The Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESA) farming support scheme, introduced in the 1980s, encompassed most of the Cambrian Mountains area, but is now being phased out. In addition, there is uncertainty at present about the future of the Tir Mynydd agricultural support scheme for farms in Less Favoured Areas.