EU cash top-sliced from farm subsidies may be used to replant public forests and woodland in Wales that are damaged by fires, storms or disease.
The proposal, for a Woodland Restoration Grant in forests with more than 20% damage, is contained in the Welsh Government’s latest review of Glastir, the land management scheme.
It suggests doubling the funding for forestry and halving the cash for Glastir Entry, the lower-level element that will be retained “for now” until budget constraints dictate otherwise.
In turn, Glastir Entry will become independent of Glastir Advanced, enabling all farmers to potentially gain direct access to the higher level element.
Moorland farmers, above 400m, will be targeted for support in Glastir Advanced so that they can achieve parity with producers in the Common Land scheme.
Another proposal, to introduce a new, stand-alone Small Grant has been welcomed by farm unions. This will enable farmers to carry out dry stone walling, bracken control and some tree planting.
Also applauded are plans for a habitat network scheme that will give farmers the chance to carry out habitat work on only part of their farms.
Holyhead farmer Gavin Williams, chairman of the FUW’s land use committee, said: “We believe these will provide a positive first step into environmental management for some farmers.
“Whilst there remain some concerns about some aspects of the proposals, such as the increased allocation of resources for forestry and the suggested use of RDP funds to replant public forests, in general we look forward to working with Welsh Government to take these proposals forward.”
Glastir will be funded by the next Rural Development Programme (RDP) which, despite a £953m budget over six years, may struggle to fund all of the Welsh Government’s land management targets.
The cost of agri-environment measures have also increased sharply in recent years, due to rising income foregone payments.
As a result Cardiff is “exploring in detail” a system of ecosystem payments, to further incentivise farmers, as well as greater use of private funding for infrastructure projects within Glastir.
Recognising the need to boost food production as well as the environment, it is also implementing measures designed to improve farm efficiency.
To encourage investment in facilities and technology, a modernisation support scheme will offer loans and grants, with higher funding rates for young farmers and new entrants.
A Sustainable Production grant, funded by the wider RDP, will also replace the Glastir Efficiency Grant.
Natural Resources minister Alun Davies said he had prioritised support for the uplands, new woodland and tackling tree disease.
But business efficiency was also key.
He said: “My ambition for Welsh agriculture is very clear – we need to move forward and stimulate on-farm investment to increase resource efficiency, enhance technical performance and develop businesses.”
Other proposals include:
An on-line system as the only way to access Glastir.
A single Common Land/Advanced scheme for the commons, with greater flexibility in stocking densities.
Payment rates to stay the same.
Prioritisation system for selecting Glastir Entry participants.
More flexibility in upland grazing patterns, allowing seasonal adjustments, with minimum stocking rates.
Funding support for mixed grazing in the uplands.
Plaid AM Llyr Gruffydd said Glastir has been constantly evolving and he hoped the new proposals would now end the uncertainty.
But he added: “It is unfortunate that the government includes vague commitments such as to retain the Entry scheme ‘for now’, which falls some way short of providing farmers with the certainty we were looking for.”