Back to the future: How do we make the most of Welsh upland permanent pasture?

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


In the 1930s, Wales was at the centre of a grassland revolution replacing indigenous vegetation with reseeded swards. The related research focused on approaches to reducing the challenges to establishment and persistency posed by acidic soils limited in major soil nutrients. The bulk of the improved swards found in the uplands were established 30-40 years later as farmers responded to a sustained policy drive for land improvement and took advantage of government aid to achieve this. Today permanent pasture accounts for more than 75% of agricultural land in Wales. Over time, the grasses and legumes that constituted the mixes originally sown have been replaced by unsown grass species, leading to a decline in function and performance. Since the species and varieties of grass originally used were heavily reliant upon substantial nutrient inputs, particularly nitrogen, to remain competitive, this process has been exacerbated by reductions in application rates of inorganic fertilisers in response to rising costs and environmental concerns. Plant science has made major advances in the decades since large tracts of the uplands were last improved, and there is potential to transform the role and function of such pastures. The introduction of new forage legumes and grasses would not only radically improve livestock production yields and efficiencies in marginal areas (and in turn reduce the environmental footprint of the associated industry), it could also enhance ecosystem service provision beyond primary production, including carbon storage and water management. The predicted impact of climate change must also be considered. While the thin soils typical of marginal areas are highly susceptible to drought conditions, these areas could also play a vital role in terms of water storage and regulation of flows to lower-lying areas and make a greater contribution to resilience to extremes in rainfall.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2020
EventResilience in the Welsh Uplands - An Evidence Perspective: Environment Evidence 2020 - Online
Duration: 14 Sept 202018 Sept 2020


ConferenceResilience in the Welsh Uplands - An Evidence Perspective
Period14 Sept 202018 Sept 2020
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