What’s the plan? Who gets to vote? Who’s in charge?

I’m very bothered about all of this.

And yet, all these questions can fade into the background when confronted with the reality of early spring here.

Instead, our focus is on the trees erupting into leaf, on the clouds of Blackthorn blossom, on wild flowers and insects buzzing around them, on the increasingly noisy dawn chorus, and on new lambs bouncing around the fields. Being at arm’s length definitely gives a different perspective to the political shenanigans of Westminster, but we are not unaffected by what happens there.

One example:

Farmers manage the landscape as they farm – growing livestock or arable crops in response to the economic environment and the incentives that politicians design. Here, where the land quality is marginal for farming, most of the land is only suitable for sheep. 

Will that continue? That all depends on the price and profit for sheep farmers. If we leave the EU then tariffs are likely to transform the export market. And the subsidies paid by the CAP will disappear, replaced with… who knows?

Exports become too expensive, so prices have to drop to make any sales overseas. Demand for Welsh Lamb plummets. So with very few sales and all those at uneconomic prices, no-one can make a living as a sheep farmer any more. The result? No more sheep. 

What instead? More trees? Do we ‘re-wild’ the countryside introducing wolves or wild boars, beavers or lynx? Or something else?

Any of these options would have a dramatic impact on what the countryside looks like.

What we like to think of as the unchanging, timeless British countryside would very rapidly prove to be anything but. The Brexit arguments and decisions seem distant, but the fallout will be far-reaching. Even in the countryside, we shouldn’t take what we have for granted.

So I’m going back outside to make the most of the blossom and the new growth, the birds, the bees and the lambs, ‘cos the outlook for all of them may be very different in the not-too distant future…

How can you live in a National Park?

“We googled your postcode and it showed up in the Brecon Beacons National Park, so we thought it must be wrong”

That was what they said, when we booked some flooring fitters based in the West Midlands. The idea that people can live in National Parks, or work in them, was a mystery to these guys. What did they think a National Park was? A bigger version of a town park, with a big fence around some swings and slides and maybe a football pitch or a pond? Or proper wilderness with mountains and wild animals? Maybe they were expecting Yosemite.

Yes there is wilderness. But National Parks in the UK also have farmers. And houses. And doctors, and schools, and shops, and businesses. Everything that you need to live.

However, in a National Park these ‘essentials’ are present in a way that contributes to the very special character of the area. So priority is given to maintaining and improving the environment – both the landscape and wildlife. Development of all buildings is tightly controlled. And residents and businesses have to behave in ways that complement the aims of the National Park, to ensure it remains very special.

So that’s what we try to do here – preserve and enhance the beauty and peace of this place, whilst stewarding the natural resources on the farm to support our life here. 

There is always tension between those who want to keep the Park exactly as it is, and those who think that it needs to evolve to survive. Maybe that’s the difference between those who come to visit and those whose livelihoods depend on it. But both constituencies have the same desire – to see the Park thrive and continue to be a resource for everyone.

P.S. If no-one lived, or farmed, or did business here, then the Brecon Beacons National Park would look very different. And the character of the landscape would rapidly change. But that’s a topic for another post…

Forest Coal Pit?

Seems like an odd name for somewhere in a National Park. Especially as there has never been any coal mining in the valley.

The answer is simpler: “Forest Coal” is another name for what we now call charcoal. Before the discovery that coal could be roasted to make coke for iron-making, this area was heavily forested with Alders, which make excellent charcoal. The valley – and our farm – still has lots of charcoal platforms. These are about the size of a full-sized snooker table, and are just flat bits of land created on slopes, where the charcoal could be made, near to where the trees were felled.

We have a couple of them which still have a layer of charcoal beneath the soil, even though the practice died out in the 1700’s. See if you can spot them.