Five-Year Project in Collaboration with Farmers to Roll Back Neglect of Fens Hangs on Pounds 3.8m EU Grant

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Byline: Steve Dube Farming Editor

AMBITIOUS plans have been drawn up to get local farmers and businesses to join in the largest wetland restoration project in Wales.

The Countryside Council for Wales is the lead organisation in a partnership that is bidding for a European Commission grant for a pounds 3.8mrevival of the 751hectares - 1,856 acres - of fenland in the Anglesey and Llyn Fens Special Areas of Conservation.

The five-year project will attempt to roll back years of neglect, reintroduce grazing, offer grants to farmers to reducenutrient run-off, open up public access and set up businesses producing food specialities, reed and rush products and soil improvers.

CCW senior conservation officer Justin Hanson, who is leading the project, said the work will begin next January if the EC approves a grant under its LIFE+ scheme.

The work will include collaborating with farmers to re-introduce grazing on some wildlife sites, removing scrub, improving drainage and ensuring betterwater quality by creating reed beds to soak up pollution from known sources.

He said the improvements would help to manage the sites and allow their special wildlife, including the southern damselfly and the rare Geyer'swhorl snail, to flourish.

"Local landowners and communities are key to the success of this project," he said.

"Raising awareness of the value of the Special Area of Conservation and the contribution the community can make to its revival is essential."

Mr Hanson said the quality and quantity of water and dereliction were the three main issues having an impact on the fens.

"These fens are at the bottom of little valleys and marginal agricultural land that is not much use to modern farming so they get left and become overgrown and turn into scrub, which is no good for us or for farming," he said.

"We need to overcome years of inappropriate management and neglect.

"Some of the rare plants have become big and leggy and need to be cut back and we want to reintroduce peat digging that has not been done for 100 years."

Climate change is another issue that could affect the future of these areas. In recent years, the available wildlife habitats have become smaller and more isolated, which means some animals can't move around the countryside as the effects of climate change start to bite.

So the project envisages creating a network of natural stepping-stones between habitats to help link up vulnerable sites with in the SACs, and allow wildlife to move around in reaction to climate change.

Mr Hanson said wetlands conservation is also essential in fighting climate change. …