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Farming

Agri Academy applications open

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A hugely valuable stepping stone: Agri Academy

FARMING Connect’s prestigious personal development programme, the Agri Academy 2018, was launched at the Farmers’ Union of Wales annual farmhouse breakfast at the Pierhead Building, Cardiff Bay (details elsewhere in this section).

The Agri Academy, now approaching its sixth year and with 165 alumni, brings together some of the most promising people making their way in the agricultural industry​.​

Regularly quoted by past candidates as ‘life changing’​,​ this unique programme which takes place over three short, action-packed study periods and overseas visits, gives individuals selected the inspiration, confidence, skills and networks they need to become future rural leaders, professional business people and entrepreneurs. The application window for this year’s programme, will be open ​until March 30.

Comprising three distinct elements, the Agri Academy’s Rural Leadership programme, a collaboration with the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society, aims to develop and nurture a new generation of leaders and individuals keen to influence the rural agenda at a local, regional and European level. The programme provides an opportunity to meet and lobby Welsh Government and EU figureheads in Wales and Brussels and to learn the skills of effective public speaking and media interviews.

The Business and Innovation programme offers personal and business development which can help candidates meet the challenges of farming in the future, as they network and learn from top industry experts and business leaders at home and during an overseas study visit.

The Junior Academy, which is run in partnership with Wales YFC, is targeted at young people aged 16-19 considering a career in the food and farming industries. For many it provides focus and guidance at a time when many are uncertain about their future career pathways and a prestigious, relevant notch on their CV.

Speaking at the launch, the Cabinet Secretary said “The Agri Academy’s format of three short but intensive study periods has a proven track record of paving the way to business success for so many of its alumni.

“Farming Connect’s unique personal development programme of training, mentoring, support and guidance gives both young entrants with ambitious aspirations and more experienced individuals a fantastic opportunity to share ideas and learn from each other in a success-driven, supportive environment.

“There are no barriers for eligible individuals wanting to apply for the Agri Academy and there are no limits to what you can achieve if you put your mind to it.

“The Agri Academy has been a hugely valuable stepping stone, which has inspired so many individuals, giving them confidence and necessary networks to plan for their future as successful rural leaders, professional business people and innovative farmers.”

Einir Davies, development and mentoring manager with Menter a Busnes, which delivers Farming Connect on behalf of the Welsh Government, says that the 2018 programme promises exciting opportunities.

“Candidates selected for the Business & Innovation Programme will visit Iceland, a country renowned for its innovative approach to environmental management, renewable energy and sustainable farming methods.

“Iceland has a similar topography to Wales with its combination of lowland, upland and coastal farms and it is self-sufficient in meat, eggs and milk,” said Ms Davies.

Rural Leadership Programme candidates will meet figureheads and policy leaders from the Welsh Government and visit the European Parliament in Brussels.

Branwen Miles (24), a candidate for the Rural Leadership Programme in 2017, grew up at her family’s organic dairy farm near Haverfordwest.

Branwen, who was recently appointed to a policy role with CLA Wales, studied French and international politics at Aberystwyth University, which involved her spending a year working in Strasbourg.

“I can’t believe how much confidence I gained through the Agri-Academy, and I know that the new friends and many business contacts I made will stand me in good stead in years to come.

“A particular highlight for me was visiting the European Parliament in Brussels, where our group met many high-ranking EU officials and heard at first hand their views on agriculture, and their opinion on the future as the UK plans its exit of the EU.​”​

Branwen’s father Dai was one of the Agri-Academy’s first intake of students, and so a persuasive advocate when his daughter first mentioned applying.
“I’ve always known that I want a career which involves me in the policy side of agriculture, rather than grass roots farming.

“I would advise anyone wanting a career in agriculture in Wales to apply for the Agri Academy. Not only has it given me a very relevant notch on my CV, the training, mentoring and new network of friends has been immensely empowering.

“I enjoyed university and I’ve had a number of interesting jobs since I left, but the Agri-Academy has contributed hugely to my sense of ambition and focus and I’m so grateful to have been part of it.”

For further information, eligibility criteria and to download application forms, visit www.gov.wales/farmingconnect

Farming

Conservation groups don’t like ‘unpalatable truth’

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Post-badger: A hedgehog experiences nature

THE FARMERS’ Union of Wales has warned that conservation bodies have their heads in the sand over the devastating impact badgers have had on hedgehog numbers, and are doing conservation a great disservice by scapegoating farmers.

The State of British Hedgehogs 2018 report released on February 7 by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species estimates that hedgehog numbers have halved since the beginning of the century, and places the lion’s share of the blame on intensive farming.

However, world leading hedgehog expert Dr Pat Morris, author of The New Hedgehog Book, wrote in his 2006 book “The implications [of high badger population densities] for hedgehog survival are serious…ignoring the issue or pretending that badgers exist only by harmless drinking of rainwater doesn’t help at all.”

A survey of badger numbers between November 2011 and March 2013 found that badger numbers in England and Wales have increased by between 70% and 105% in the past 25 years.

“Dr Morris is named in the State of British Hedgehogs 2018 report as the instigator of the first survey of hedgehogs based on animals killed on roads, but no mention is made of his concerns regarding high badger numbers having such a devastating impact on hedgehogs.

The issue is dismissed and swept under the carpet, despite overwhelming scientific evidence of the impact of badger predation, while farmers are effectively singled out as being to blame,” said FUW President Glyn Roberts.

A 2014 peer reviewed study of hedgehog numbers in ten 100km2 areas where badgers were culled in England found that “…counts of hedgehogs more than doubled over a 5-year period from the start of badger culling, whereas hedgehog counts did not change where there was no badger culling.”

Mr Roberts said: “Of course there are areas where intensive farming has had a detrimental impact on hedgehog numbers, but it is simply wrong to paint the whole of the UK as being like that – the fall in hedgehog numbers has in fact coincided with farmers planting more hedges.”

Mr Roberts added that this view was backed up by the RSPB, who said that losses of managed hedges appear to have halted in the mid-1990s, while the net length of hedges in the UK was stable or increasing.

The British Hedgehog Preservation Society and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species report said it was planning to engage with the farming community to ‘stem the alarming decline of our country hedgehogs’.

The likelihood is that there is a range of events causing impacts on the hedgehog population. Certain types of pesticides affect the hedgehog’s food chain, while larger and more open fields with less substantial hedgerows might also contribute to hedgehog predation and decline. The increased use of road vehicles is a certain factor, as is urban and suburban spread. Unusually, domestic pets are not a major hazard for hedgehog populations.

In rural Wales, however, the dramatic explosion in badger populations cannot be ignored as a significant factor in driving the decline of hedgehog numbers.

In the early-2000s, an investigation was carried out by the Small Mammal Specialist Group into patterns in hedgehog and badger populations across hundreds of square kilometres of rural southwest England and the midlands. One important finding was that hedgehogs appeared to be absent from large swathes of pastoral grasslands where they are thought to have once been commonplace. The group surveyed hedgehogs in a number of areas which were geographically and ecologically similar, but with different levels of badger culling.

Hedgehog numbers in suburban areas doubled during the five years of badger culling, and remained static in areas without culling. This demonstrated for the first time that badger predation is a strong limiting factor for hedgehog populations in these particular habitats.

Until the mid to late 20th century, heavy persecution of badgers kept them at low numbers. The Badgers Act of 1973 introduced protections, enhanced by the 1992 Protection of Badgers Act. Consequently surveys published in January 2014 revealed that in the 25 years since the first survey in 1985-88, the number of badger social groups in England has doubled to around 71,600.

In pasture-dominated and mixed agricultural landscapes, and in some suburban habitats, badgers thrive with have plentiful denning opportunities and abundant food resources. The largest increases in the density of badger social groups have occurred in the landscapes that dominate southern, western and eastern England. These are also the areas where hedgehog declines are likely to be most severe.

While nobody is suggesting that badgers be culled to improve biodiversity and give hedgehogs a chance of re-establishing themselves, the refusal to acknowledge evidence which they find inconvenient suggests that the weight that can be given to the Hedgehog Survey is questionable.

Glyn Roberts suggested that those ignoring the evidence were simply unprepared to face the truth about natural predation: “By sweeping under the carpet the unpalatable truth that badgers eat hedgehogs, and that the doubling in badger numbers has had a catastrophic impact on hedgehog numbers, and scapegoating farmers by highlighting outdated ideas about hedge removal, conservation bodies are doing a huge disservice to hedgehogs and conservation.

“In fact, they are doing exactly what Dr Pat Morris warned of in his Hedgehog Book – burying their heads in the sand by pretending increased badger numbers are not a major threat to hedgehog survival.”

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Farming

Charities benefit from breakfast fundraising

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'An incredible job': Glyn Roberts hails FUW members' generosity

THE EQUIVALENT of a year’s farm income (£13,000) has been raised by the Farmers’ Union of Wales, for its charitable causes – Alzheimer’s Society Cymru and The Farming Community Network.

Speaking about the success of the FUW’s farmhouse breakfast week at the end of January, Union President Glyn Roberts said: “Our staff, members and wonderful volunteers have done an incredible job in raising what is the equivalent of a year’s farm income for many farms in Wales for our chosen charities.

“Farming communities are close-knit communities and this shows what can be achieved when we all come together, with a common goal. Through these events, where we all sat around the kitchen table to talk and share our thoughts about #FarmingMatters, we’ve strengthened ongoing and permanent relationships and established new ones.

“The money we have raised in our rural communities will go towards helping others in our communities – we must never forget that our communities are the engine room of people powered change and also that this strength of community has the power to hold governments to account.”

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Farming

FMD plans tested

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Exercise Blackthorn: Testing FMD preparedness

GOVERNMENT departments around the UK are set to carry out simulation exercises to test contingency plans for dealing with any future outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

Exercise Blackthorn involved the Animal and Plant Health Agency, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), Scottish Government, Welsh Government and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland are set to test their current state of readiness over the next few months.

The EU Directive 2003/85/EC requires Member States to exercise their contingency plans either:

  • ​twice within a five year period; or
  • ​during “the five year period after the outbreak of a major epizootic disease has been effectively controlled and eradicated.”

The first simulation exercise took place on Thursday, February 8, with a further table-top exercise on March 8 followed by a real-time exercise on April 25 and 26 April.

Exercise Blackthorn will end on June 7 with a final table-top exercise. UK chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens said regular testing of contingency plans was an important part of making sure the authorities can respond to outbreaks.

“Exercises like this provide an opportunity for teams across government and industry to engage and to learn lessons in a controlled and safe environment,” he said.

“The risk of foot-and-mouth disease arriving in the UK is low but ever present. Government monitors disease outbreaks and incidence around the world assessing risk for the UK and taking action to mitigate risk where possible.”

After being free of FMD since 1968, Great Britain suffered a return of the disease in 2001. The entire outbreak lasted for 221 days and had a devastating impact on the farming industry, rural community and the wider economy across the UK. The UK was officially declared disease free on 22 January 2002.

An exercise evaluation report will be published in the autumn.

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