Farming has a key role to play in looking after the environment and combating climate change but the production of food must not be excluded from the conversation, says Pembrokeshire beef, sheep and arable farmer Jayne Richards.

Jayne, who farms with her parents Michael and Margaret and husband Ali at Jordanston Farm, St Mary’s Park, Jordanston, just outside Milford Haven, has no doubt that if it weren’t for small family farms up and down the country the environment would suffer.

The aesthetic look of the Welsh countryside would change dramatically, with rural communities being lost.

However, the family are clear that food production and the care of the environment both have a critical role to play and one can’t function without the other.

The 350-acre farm, which is in the Glastir scheme, is home to 400 breeding ewes and 140 beef cattle, as well as a small suckler herd. The family keep mostly Welsh half bred ewes and breed their own Texel rams and replacement ewes. They also keep some store lambs in the autumn and winter to finish on root crops.

The family grow all their own fodder for the cattle, including silage, haylage, and wheat and barley, and rent out 20 acres for potato production. 50 acres of woodland surround the farm, creating a big wildlife corridor that has been beneficial for wildlife on the farm and also in terms of carbon storage.

Jayne’s grandfather bought the farm in the 1950s and at the time it was a land settlement farm for miners who came down from the Valleys.

Jayne says: “The miners who came here could either work on the farm or they had a house of their own with a greenhouse and kept a pig for themselves. They were fairly self-sufficient then. The farm used to be a horticulture holding and also grew vegetables.

“Jordanston was quite intensive at that time, every inch of the land was in production and the farm had its own pig unit, as well as a horticulture nursery. When my grandfather bought the farm he grew potatoes and kept sheep and beef cattle.”

Since then the family has more or less carried on in the same way. Looking after the land and producing food has always gone hand in hand. Jayne, who used to work in the Tir Gofal team, said the environment schemes are of vital importance but food production and the existing farming business has to work alongside the schemes.

"We managed to do quite a few things around the farm that enhanced what’s here and improved things for the future," she said.

"Amongst many things we have restored hedgerows, we look after six irrigation ponds and three of them are surrounded by scrubland, a great habitat for wildlife but also a carbon store. "These ponds are fenced off as wildlife corridors and they link directly to the woodland. We also leave stubble for over-wintering birds.

“Being a mixed farm is a good thing for wildlife because you don’t have as much monoculture, you can produce sustainable food with habitat left for wildlife in between the cropping, which enhances the movement of species around the farm.

“We rotate the crops every three years including swedes, barley, wheat and grass, which is good for the soil.These things have to work together and farms like ours manage it quite well.”

As part of their environmental work the family have reclaimed the pond at the front of the house and planted two miles of native thorns and hedgerow trees to create a Pembrokeshire hedge.

"We try to do lots of small things and as a family we do enjoy the wildlife, but we also have to live and make a profit. It’s about striking a balance,” she said.

“You can feel the history as you walk around and I’m particularly fond of our woodland, which includes broadleaf trees such as ash, sycamore, beech and oak.

“There are tawny owls in the woods, and we fenced the wood off to regenerate it all those years ago. It would be good to graze it a little bit though but at the moment under Glastir that’s not really an option.

"If land isn’t managed you end up with too much of the same overgrowth and scrub which does not support such a wide range of species and becomes of little use to anyone or anything.”

Whilst the family are enthusiastic about looking after the wildlife and caring for the environment, they are clear that for one aspect to function properly, the other, food production and the role of the livestock must be appreciated.

“The livestock is essential, not just for our income but the way they graze the land helps to ensure that the land and insects here are flourishing too. If the livestock wasn’t here it would all go wild and then you couldn’t use it for anything."

Jayne feels strongly that it’s important to be in an agri-environment scheme, not only from an environmental point of view but from a business point of view as well.

“Farming here in Wales is so different to other parts of the world. You cannot class all farms in the same way. The type of farming changes according to geographic location, the climate and soil type, one system will not fit all. You cannot combine everything in a global summary.

“I feel quite angry when the industry here in Wales gets accused and portrayed as being bad for the environment and making climate change worse. Farming is not an easy job, many farmers do improve things for wildlife and encourage the environment to flourish.

“There are some issues of course, but that’s equally true for other industries. Most farmers are trying their best to address these environmental issues, but there are ways and means to implement change.

"After all these are the people with the countryside knowledge and skills who have the ability to successfully produce food in Wales and to care for the Welsh countryside in the future.”