The Welsh rural economy is diverse but firmly grounded in Wales’s rich natural environment. Although agriculture is an important industry for Wales, and the dominant land use, it is one part of a complex picture. Rural areas are seen very much as a place of work, including in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, where a careful balance is struck between a celebration of heritage and environmental values while maintaining and growing economic activity. The environmental value of the Welsh countryside is reflected in the designation of around 30 per cent of the land and marine area of Wales as protected landscapes or habitats.
Lamb is the food most readily identified by consumers as a typical Welsh product, but it is one of the most vulnerable sectors in the wake of Brexit. Changes to support payments and trade uncertainties are both threats to farming and its associated landscapes, particularly in the uplands. At the same time this is an attractive holiday destination that has benefited in recent years from growing markets for outdoor recreation and food tourism. Welsh cultural heritage and a strong sense of place and community are distinctive attributes that present opportunities for future growth in tourism and premium food marketing. However, there are varying levels of local need and capacity to act. It is questionable therefore whether the whole country can be treated uniformly in any approaches to support. Overall, the loss of European funding streams could have widespread and serious implications.
If rural areas of Wales are to flourish as communities and economic areas, policymakers will need to take a fresh and innovative approach to supporting new developments and industries. Working beyond the boundaries and traditional priorities of sectoral interests is a key means of promoting innovation. A more integrative and place-based approach, which acknowledges the diversity of rural stakeholders, could be particularly useful.