The Habitat Wales Scheme – playing fast and loose with nature and farmers

The Habitat Wales Scheme – playing fast and loose with nature and farmers

Farmers in Wales have long championed organic practices, becoming the backbone for some of the UK's most renowned organic brands. Organic farming is not merely a farming method; it's a way of life and a philosophy that resonates with the unique climate, growing conditions and farming characteristics of Wales. The country has a long and deep bond with the movement – Lady Eve Balfour’s first farm was in Monmouthshire, and a new generation of radical pioneers in west Wales catalysed the introduction of organic standards in the 1970s. The legacy of all these early adopters lives on. Wales tops the list of UK nations with 4.4% of its total land area registered organic (2022 DEFRA stats). Thanks to Welsh Government conversion support this figure peaked at 6.5% in 2010.

A cliff-edge in support

But right now a shadow has fallen across this legacy. Nature friendly farmers including organic producers are reeling from Welsh Government’s sudden move to slash habitat management support payments and remove altogether any support for whole-farm certified organic management. The rushed introduction of the ‘Habitat Wales Scheme’, intended as a stopgap between Glastir Advanced, Glastir Commons and Glastir Organic contracts and the launch of the Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) in April 2025 has been branded as ‘ongoing chaos’ by farmers who’ve long delivered agri-environment contracts to Welsh Government. It’s not difficult to understand why. Habitat payment rates in the scheme are on average 45% lower than Glastir Advanced options, even when accounting for new habitat payments that weren’t available through Glastir, such as for rock and scree.

Farmer surveys undertaken by organic control bodies, farming unions and NGOs paint a disturbing picture. Farm income from the Habitat Wales Scheme appears to be some 70-80% less than previous Glastir contracts. Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffith’s promised that there would be no cliff-edge in funding in the transition to the SFS, but a 70-80% cut cannot be described as anything but a cliff edge. Faced with rising costs of production many Glastir contract holders are indicating that they will turn to more intensive practices next year to maintain their income. The Welsh Organic Forum has warned that a withdrawal of support for organic farming is likely to precipitate a mass exodus of organic farmers.

Decades of investment in healthy soils, nature-rich farms and pioneering food businesses now at risk

To quote one mixed farmer facing a 78% cut in scheme support income, there would be ‘no incentive now to manage my habitat grassland as low/zero input or growing cereals due to increased costs of cultivation” and they “would be financially better off renting out land to (our) intensive dairy neighbour.” Another farmer has reported that the ‘combination of common land reduction in payment makes upland farming unviable’.

The scope and budget of the Habitat Wales Scheme has been constrained by a reduced rural affairs budget due to a £900 million shortfall in Welsh Government’s overall budget for 2023. However, the scheme looks set to heap more cost onto the future bill for sustainable land management. It risks alienating the very farmers who’ve been leading the way towards government’s vision for sustainable food production and environmental land management, undermining the farming community’s confidence in farming with nature and publicly funded schemes such as the SFS.

What next?

Alongside the Welsh Organic Forum we’ve been calling for Welsh Government to reinstate scheme support payments for certified organic management actions across all landcovers on farm – habitat, ‘land managed as habitat’ (a Habitat Wales Scheme category) and all other farmed areas. This delivers additional direct benefit for the habitats, and sympathetic benefits from the organic management of non-habitat land at scale. Organic management actions would secure benefit for nature across the whole farm.

We’re also calling for a Senedd enquiry into the Habitat Wales Scheme to ensure the same mistakes are not made within the Sustainable Farming Scheme. And we’re gearing up to engage with the next Sustainable Farming Scheme consultation due in December. All organic producers, processors, retailers should do so too!

Statement from Helen Browning OBE, Soil Association CEO

"Welsh Government risks undermining its own sustainability obligations and jeopardising the wellbeing of Wales by reducing support for nature-friendly farming practices including organic at this critical juncture. The financial challenges that the government faces are undeniable and significant, but the future costs will be higher if short-term responses damage nature. The new scheme looks set to push back a mainstream shift to nature-friendly farming in Wales by years and inflict long lasting damage on the organic sector in particular.

Organic farming aligns seamlessly with Welsh Government's climate and nature goals. By avoiding synthetic chemicals, prioritising soil health, and promoting nature across the whole farm, organic farming methods are vital to mitigating the climate crisis and achieving the sustainable management of Wales’ natural resources.

Wales’s credentials as an environmentally sustainable country are now at risk at a time when other nations are investing heavily in supporting their own organic supply chains.
It is crucial that the Welsh Government re-evaluates its stance and renews its commitment to nature-friendly farming including organic for the benefit of all.”