Profits, but at Little Cost to Nature; CONSERVATION: 'It Is Far Less Intensive Than the Farming I Was Used to in the 1970s and '80S'

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Byline: SIAN HOWELL

CAN farming work alongside wildlife and still be commercially viable? This is a question more and more farmers are facing as government policies move towards agri-environment schemes that place more importance on economic and environmental sustainability.

At the Lake Vyrnwy nature reserve, 10 miles west of Welshpool, RSPB Cymru and Severn Trent Water have been putting the question to the test for the past five years.

In 1996 RSPB Cymru and Severn Trent embarked on a partnership project to see if farming for profit and for conservation could go hand in hand.

Ty Llwyd farm is a 12,000-acre farm on the shores of Lake Vyrnwy, and for the past two years the farm has been in organic conversion. Both organisations have been monitoring how the changes in farming methods have affected the birds, the quality of the stock and the farm's profit margins.

Ty Llwyd has 3,500 Welsh mountain ewes and 35 pedigree Welsh Blacks. By stocking native Welsh Blacks the farm hopes to compete in terms of quality and distinctiveness of produce and add value to the meat once it is ready for marketing.

Gwynfor Evans, a local farmer whose family has farmed the Berwyns for generations, has been employed by the RSPB as farm manager since the project's outset.

He says, "Farming in an organic way has meant turning back the clock in some respects. It's a slower way of farming; it has a different time schedule and is far less intensive than the kind of farming I was used to in the 1970s and '80s.

"When I was first approached by the RSPB to be farm manager at Ty Llwyd, I knew it would be a terrific challenge. Ty Llwyd is a conservation-led project but a top priority is to make the farm pay.

"When I first took over the management at Ty Llwyd, I admit it was with a healthy degree of cynicism. …