Responses of biodiversity and ecosystem processes to land use change in the Welsh hills

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Contributor(s) Organisations

10 Jan 2017

Type(s) Invited talk


Abstract The exceptional period of livestock production, especially of sheep, from the 12th Century to the present has profoundly affected the soil and vegetation of the Welsh hills. [Cistercian monks were the first to be tasked with furthering agricultural improvement and pushing cultivation and pastoralism into the uplands and that objective for land use has been revisited many times since. There was a concerted effort via plant breeding and the establishment of an agricultural advisory service in Aberystwyth, to drive agricultural improvements across upland Wales following cessation of metal mining, 1870-1930s.] The post-war Agriculture Act and European Common Agricultural Policy drove the most recent increase in management intensity of agriculture, aided by advances in industrial technology. What have been the direct (e.g., annual stocking density and duration), indirect (e.g., land drainage and fertiliser inputs) effects on soils, vegetation and wider biodiversity and how have these interacted with the recent external factors of nitrogen deposition and climate change? Several recent collaborative studies across the upland ecosystem will be summarised to provide glimpses of observed changes in biodiversity and ecosystem processes, following the most recent and intensive period of agricultural activity: • Soil and vegetation responses to decadal exclusion of domesticated grazing animals from Snowdon and Cwm Idwal. • Vegetation, plant trait and soil invertebrate relationship with nutrient status and inputs. • The outcome for peat wetness, vegetation, soil invertebrates and gas fluxes of remediation work to block drains and reduce livestock densities across blanket bog (the Migneint and Berwyn Hills). • The consequences for food webs of observed changes in invertebrate productivity across the uplands. The closing synthesis will reflect whether the interpretations of these results are consistent with published work of other research groups and therefore if these insights are applicable to the upland ecosystem in general. Areas of uncertainty will be identified where urgent research may be necessary and the implications for land management can be addressed in an open discussion.