It’s the driest summer in Wales since 1976 and desperate farmers are using up next winter’s fodder to feed their animals during the longest drought in decades.

Adding to the burden and worry for livestock owners are rising bale prices, both for feed and bedding.

Gower based grazier Emma Douglas’ experience is typical: “Our yield is half what it normally is. Big bale silage is already £40 per bale, straw £140 per ton and some people are already having to use their winter fodder as the grass isn’t growing at all, while second and third cuts are looking unlikely.”

Emma also works for PONT (Pori, Natur a Threftadaeth – Grazing, Nature and Heritage), a not-for-profit organisation which encourages and facilitates conservation grazing.

Pont is calling for owners of suitable uncut meadows, which may previously have struggled to find contractors, to offer their standing hay for use by drought-stricken farmers.

One such meadow owner in the recently formed Ceredigion Meadows Group, which is coordinated by Plantlife Cymru and Pont Cymru, said:

“We have two farmers clamouring for our hay crop. Our neighbour is very concerned over the lack of feed for his store cattle. The fields are barren for grazing, he can’t fertilise without rain to wash it into the soil, and he believes the grass growth is minimal re his silage crop.”

Pont senior manager and ecologist Jan Sherry, adds: “Traditional hay meadows typically include species which are deep rooted and are therefore able to resist drought for longer. Even after this current dry period plants such as black knapweed are still green and just coming into flower in hay meadows and unimproved grasslands.”

“Pont’s website has a hay exchange facility which anyone can join. Hay meadows are typically rich in biodiversity but owners can struggle to get the hay cut due to low productivity or small acreages.

"However, such hay is herb rich, low sugar and high fibre - perfect for many animals and most farmers would be grateful for extra feedstock this summer.

"This would also be a good time for conservation site owners to strike up a longer term relationship with their local farmers, as many sites need conservation grazing at certain times of the year.”

Pont is keen to point out that sites such as heathlands, which can become overgrown with bracken and gorse if not managed appropriately, may be able to provide much needed bedding as well.

Jan Sherry continues: “Heather and bracken cutting could help to alleviate the bedding burden for farmers this year. Historically, commoners with rights used to cut bracken for bedding and gorse and heather for fuel, whilst chopping up the green gorse tips to feed livestock in the winter.

"Our heather bedding trials in north Wales in 2011 and 2012 found that farmers reduced their straw costs by an average of £1,433 and bedding-up time by up to 10 hours a week.

"Farmers could help overgrown conservation sites to get back into suitable condition by getting permission to cut and take away certain vegetation and litter for use on the farm.“

A free leaflet on Heathland Bedding is available on the Pont website