A PIONEERING partnership of land owners, graziers and public bodies has been awarded more than £1 million for the sustainable management of the Black Mountains.

The iconic mountain range that straddles the county's Welsh border will benefit from a grant of £1,004,155 from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.

The mountains are home to sheep, ponies, birds of prey, purple heather and peat. It all needs managing and protecting – and around 300 hectares of bracken which is encroaching on valuable grazing is to be brought under control while peat resources will be protected and livestock access improved.

Local communities are to be involved in the project too through the development of a rural skills programme and the engagement of local schools.

The successful funding bid was made by the Black Mountains Land Use Partnership, a “pioneering partnership” that brings together stakeholders, including the Black Mountain Graziers Association (BMGA) and private landowners including the Glanusk Estate, Tregoyd Estate and Michaelchurch Estate.

It also includes public land owning bodies; the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority, Natural Resources Wales, Natural England, Welsh Water and there’s support from the Young Farmers Club.

Together the partners say they’ll work together to improve the viability and quality of the traditional farming practices that contribute to the management of natural resources in the 30,000 acre project area.

Chair of the BMGA, Neville Powell, who farms at the foot of the mountains in Craswall, said the project will be spread over three years.

He said there have been a lot of questions asked “but at the end of the day it’s a fairly unique partnership to have government bodies, land owners and graziers sat around the table.”

He added: “One of the main issues is bracken control, which is a problem in the uplands generally. It has a detrimental effect for graziers, conservation and tourism and there’s the added hazards and issues from tics.”

Neville’s family has farmed in the area for generations and the project will help families like his who turn their sheep out on to the ‘hill’ for grazing.

He said that current farm environmental schemes have reduced the number of sheep on the mountains, leading, actually to “almost under grazing.”

It’s believed the bracken management, which will probably see contractors cutting the bracken using remote control machinery twice a year, would allow more sheep to graze.

“We are hoping to explain that livestock and conservation, especially in the uplands, really go together,” said Neville, who said that cutting the thick bracken at turning out points at the bottom of the mountain would help access.

Improvements to livestock access would also help with stock management and provide a better visitor experience of the area.

Local communities will be involved through developing a rural skills programme, engagement with schools and also the creation of employment opportunities including two partnership ranger posts.

Neville believes the early stages of the project will see little money spent on the Herefordshire side of the mountains but hopes that Natural England, which has also sat in on discussions, will find funding for the English side.

The money is important for the regeneration of what is a working landscape shaped by traditional farming practices.

“People come out here to see the landscape and countryside for what it is," added Neville. "But if there aren’t the traditional family farms working here who else is going to do it? It’s something you can’t put a value on."