Could this community’s plans for its local farm be a blueprint for the future?

11th October 2019

A group of local people want to bring Trecadwgan Farm in Pembrokeshire under community ownership, so that it can support even more livelihoods while producing high quality food and enhancing the local countryside.

Trecadwgan Farm
Trecadwgan Farm, Pembrokeshire

Trecadwgan Farm sits atop a wooded valley above the harbour village of Solva on the dramatically beautiful Pembrokeshire coast. For now the farm is a ‘county farm’ – owned as a public asset by Pembrokeshire County Council – but it was put up for sale by auction earlier this year after a tenancy held by the same local family for over 80 years.

Taking the opportunity to sell off a valuable asset, the council has left just over 11 acres of land with the farmstead – making it too small to be viable as a conventional farm. It proposed to auction the farmhouse, buildings and parcel of land as a ‘development opportunity’ – perhaps for second homes or holiday cottages. It has good prospects in many senses, with panoramic views of the glorious landscape that supports a thriving tourist industry centred around the nearby cathedral city of St Davids.

Even at this precarious moment, the farmstead – with its deep agricultural heritage going back to the 14th century, at least – still has a chance of a farming future, long-term. Why? Because a committed group of local people with a vision want to bring the farm under community ownership, so that it can support even more livelihoods while producing high quality food and enhancing the local countryside.

If they can secure the land, the group wants to run a mixed farm. They plan to manage it to be environmentally and financially sustainable, with on-site processing for everything from cheese and smoked meats to bread and fruit juice. An education centre would offer courses such as eco-restoration and agroecology – in essence, farming in harmony with nature.

This is a vision for a farm shaped by the community and for the community, using the group’s considerable energy, experience and commitment. One member already runs a community supported vegetable and fruit farm and box scheme; another runs a local campsite and business, while a third grows wheat (15 tonnes this year!) near St Davids for his bakery and teaches milling and baking to local schoolchildren.
The wider group is already 20 strong and has many other skills, not least fundraising: asked by the council to put up £50,000 to prevent the sale of the farm by auction, they made the sum in weeks.

The group now has to put an offer in for the farm by 1st November, although the council still wants to sell to the highest bid (which the community group may then have a chance to match). The council could have the discretion in law to sell at a lower price if there is a social, economic and environmental benefit, but they remain resistant to this – which could put it beyond the group’s reach.

So, while the council appears to be acting for all its constituents in maximizing the gains of the sale to spend elsewhere, this case raises critical questions about how councils should be using their assets. In particular: it is wise to get rid of assets that can provide sustainable food, create jobs, teach skills and boost the local economy?

The vision for Trecadwgan is exceptional, but it doesn’t have to be. It could inspire the rejuvenation of County Farms elsewhere – in England these manage over 200,000 acres of publically-owned land which councils have held in trust for future generations. This land is a critical asset for addressing climate change, restoring nature, growing healthy food, and providing meaningful and rewarding jobs in rural areas. It could also give people opportunities to connect – in a very real sense – with food and how it is produced, and even produce it themselves.

This is an issue that we at CPRE will be exploring in the very near future. We think County Farms should become a public investment for the future – so that far more communities can enjoy the benefits they bring. For now, County Farms continue to be sold off, tenancies ended and farms lost. But there’s a real chance to save Trecadwgan Farm, and in doing so, raise awareness of the issue around the country.

Sign up to the community campaign and lend your support. With their energy and commitment they deserve to succeed, and with our help they can.