5 Mar 2015

Garden and College helping shape future farming generations

Colin Miles

A new deal between the National Botanic Garden and Coleg Sir Gar will play a big part in shaping the next generation in agriculture to make a difference to the environment.

A five-year farm management agreement between the Garden and the college has been signed with both organisations hailing the move as an excellent ‘win-win’ collaboration.

The Botanic Garden’s formally planted visitor attraction is just a small part of its 220 hectare site; by far the largest area is the working farm, which includes Waun Las National Nature Reserve.

On the species-rich, Soil Association organic registered pastures, there are a productive herd of 42 Welsh Black cattle and 200-strong flock of Lleyn and cross-bred sheep. These generate income through the Garden’s own box scheme. The farm estate includes ecologically important woodland and is set in a heritage landscape.

Garden Director Dr Rosie Plummer spoke enthusiastically about ways her organisation would be benefiting, both from having the college’s farm manager John Owen as part of her team, and through better communication of the Garden’s conservation messages direct to the next generation of students, as well as the wider agricultural community.

Said Dr Plummer: “The college team, and John in particular, is enormously experienced and capable. They already work with us and know the Garden and the wider estate well. This scheme will be instrumental in improving our commerciality as we look to invest both in our Welsh black beef herd and our flock with the aim of providing a better return without risking our hard-won reputation as a haven for biodiversity. ”

College principal Barry Liles said the new arrangement would create excellent opportunities not only for his land-based students to see and experience different types of farming but for other students to be more closely engaged with the Garden.

Mr Liles said: “Work on the national nature reserve will have to be carried out to the exacting standards of the Glas Tir Advanced environmental stewardship grant that the Garden holds. That means this agreement is very much about our two organisations working together effectively to deliver environmental and Welsh government targets, as well as economic and education benefits.”

He added that learning opportunities for students on the largely ‘dairy’ Gelli Aur estate would now be complemented by the organic sheep and beef operation at the Garden. Land-based training would also include a stronger ecological slant.

Dr Plummer agreed, saying: “Our agriculture has to be economically viable if the agricultural community is to take our conservation messages seriously, and this important collaboration comes from two directions to make that goal much more achievable.”