September 20, 2021

Newyddion Cymru Ar-Lein : Wales News Online

Newyddion Lleol a Chenedlaethol Cymru – Local and National News for Wales

Over 10% of Welsh farms could disappear under afforestation plans claims NFU Cymru President

FARMERS and farming experts are expressing their concerns at the Welsh Government’s ideas and plans for Wales and its huge swathes of farmland as the they ask us the public and land owners to help plant over 86 million trees.

Farming unions and agricultural experts insist that the “fixation” with planting trees is not the rural answer to climate change.

THE NFU Scotland vice-president Andrew Connon gave an interview to the Forestry Journal  and said that only a redefined approach to woodland expansion and forestry on agricultural land will achieve the results we are all striving to reach.

Connon believes such an over reliance is “naïve at best and certainly short-sighted, having the potential to be damaging in other economic, environmental and social aspects”.

Although in favour of sensitive afforestation the warnings of over inflated land prices, offshoring our carbon emissions and opposition to forestation on a commercial scale, which reduces agricultural activity and food production have all been sounded.

Environmentalists will no doubt be applauding the call and calculating just how much impact those trees will have on addressing the issue of climate change. As with all things relating to nature there is a balance to be struck. No one has a crystal ball to see what the world will look like in 50 years time. We have to place our trust and faith in our leaders who tell us that these initiatives have to be implemented and of course they will say that they have been provided with the science to back up their calls, which may change the face of farming in Wales completely.

Not seeing the wood for the trees?: Lee Waters MS Deputy Minister for Climate Change

Lee Waters who was the former Deputy Minister for Transport is now Deputy Minister for Climate Change and he is on a mission to see those trees planted. In a recent BBC interview Mr Waters said that families with gardens should plant more trees. The comments (mostly negative) point out that there are inconsistencies at best within the plans and call for a much broader approach looking at tackling over development, incinerators, airport pollution and car pollution.

Ogneath said “This minister should take a trip along the Heads of the Valleys A465 and count all the trees that have been cut down for a road improvement scheme , between Glynneath and Merthyr now looks like a wasteland . So before preaching to the public he needs to have a few words with his fellow ministers and get their house in order and lead by example.”

Ange said: “Plant more trees” while still allowing new housing on green-field site. Double standards.”

Sort It Out said: “They need to be a bit more proactive than that, like interest free loans for heat pumps / solar panel or electric cars. Come on Welsh Labour Government actually do something!!”

Jones said:”The tree planting debate is muddled and is leading to calls for unproven rewilding projects. The balance between the food production needs and tree planting has been ill considered. Allowing productive land to be sacrificed to tree planting in order to get grants is scandalous. Trees should only be planted on land incapable of being used for food production – marginal land.”

The Welsh government wants to plant 86 million more trees by the end of the decade.

Science suggests that trees aid removal of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere as well as reducing air pollution and supporting wildlife but some claim that the plans have negative consequences too. Plans to encourage more trees to be planted in Wales are under fire for “destroying communities” in rural areas. Large-scale investment companies have been buying farms across Wales with one expert claiming that at least 12 farms in one region of Wales have been sold to companies outside of Wales.

That isn’t always the case as can be seen in a video on the website of woodlands.co.uk where people explain why they have bought woodlands. They give a range of reasons from escaping the rat race to interest in conservation.

In Wales a 28 acre woodland at Allt Foel-Fawr in Cynwyl Elfed is on the market for £225,000

A new investment fund has been launched looking to acquire UK farmland suitable for tree planting for timber production and ecological objectives.

True North European Real Estate Partners is working with farmers and landowners looking to release capital by selling small or larger acreages of marginal hill or arable land.

This would be appropriate for areas typically of over 200 acres in size, or an entire farm, where the land is suited to conversion to forestry.

The UK government has kicked off a series of announcements on how it will boost tree cover across the country with the “Urban Tree Challenge”, which it says will result in 44,000 large trees being planted in towns and cities, near healthcare centres and schools.

A study by the Woodland Trust revealed just seven per cent of the country’s forests are in good ecological shape. Britain’s native woodlands are approaching “crisis point” and are under siege from a variety of threats, from climate change and nitrogen pollution to habitat damage, imported diseases, invasive plant species like rhododendrons and new housing developments, a new report has warned.

The Woodland Trust wants to plant 50m trees over the next five years, while the National Trust has called for 20m this decade.

Calling for a more sensitive broad brush approach: Farmers and agricultural experts

When or where the 86 million trees will be planted in Wales is not clear. Some commentators are calling for a more sensitive and informed approach to include targeting heavily polluted areas with tree planting and avoiding taking coals to Newcastle in planting trees in existing farmland. The choice of trees is also important as some conservationists point out. The cost of trees may also be prohibitory for some families who might like to get involved but lack the funds.

In Scotland Residents of Scottish Borders and Dumfries & Galloway can now apply for the South of Scotland Tree Planting Grant, worth up to £1000. This grant is for tree and woodland planting projects of less than 0.25ha, which are too small to be eligible for the Forestry Grant Scheme funding. The scheme provides support and financial assistance to plant individual trees or small clumps of trees for the benefit of people, communities and wildlife.

Nicola Sturgeon has come in for criticism for the Scottish Government’s approval for the vast plantations dominated by Sitka spruce, a fast-growing tree native to North America, which sprouting across the country, fuelled by generous grants and tax breaks for investors. About 22 million trees were planted last year and the SNP wants 21 per cent of Scotland covered in forest by 2032.

President of the Farmers’ Union of Wales Glyn Roberts has said that he feared grazing areas could be lost in order to meet the target. Mr Roberts, a National Trust tenant farmer near Betws y Coed, Conwy county, said he feared forestry in rural areas could have a negative impact on farmers, food production and communities, if grassland is lost.

NFU Cymru President, John Davies said: “Welsh Government has ambitious plans to expand tree cover in Wales. This includes the establishment of a National Forest from the north of Wales to the south and 180,000 hectares of new tree planting by 2050 to meet Wales’ net zero target.

To put this into context, the average farm size here in Wales is 48 hectares, so the target would require the complete afforestation of 3,750 farms in Wales

(Approx 34,320 farms in Wales 3,750 farms = 10%)

“NFU Cymru believes farmers are the solution to climate change, uniquely placed as a carbon source and sink. We have set the ambitious goal of net zero agriculture by 2040, which will require a focus on improving farming’s productive efficiency; improving land management and enhancing land use to capture more carbon; and boosting renewable energy and the wider bioeconomy.

NFU Cymru is supportive of measures that facilitate and reward farmers for additional woodland planting that is achieved through integrating trees into farming systems, rather than replacing them, so that food production and our rural communities are safeguarded

“Farmers should be fairly rewarded for carbon stocks in soils, grassland, peatlands and existing tree cover.

“Overall, NFU Cymru believes that climate goals should be met in ways that are sustainable and fair. Tree planting targets should not be achieved through a binary choice of farming or forestry, instead Wales’ ambitious targets should be progressed in ways that safeguards the multiple economic, environmental, social and cultural benefits that farming provides.”

We contacted Lee WatersMS Deputy Minister for Climate Change for an interview.

80% of land in Wales managed by farmers provides greatest opportunity for new tree planting: John Davies, President of NFU Cymru

Pics. Elkanah Evans

Editorial:

Try to imagine Wales when the first people to occupy the land arrived. It is hard to imagine but history tells us that the land was covered in trees with people foraging and hunting in those forests for whatever they could gather. Inevitably they began to clear part of the land in order to keep animals, grow crops and build modest homes. Although this happened over many thousands of years we just can’t seem to picture a Wales without the lush green pastures, the managed forests and the perfectly trimmed hedgerows. Those who live in the countryside will be familiar with the sights and sounds of tractors working around the clock to harvest the silage to feed cattle. Vast fields mown harvested then fertilised. It really is a joy to watch.

Older readers will remember a time when their local farm made use of young people to plant and pick crops. Large fields full of potatoes, swedes, carrots, cabbage and sprouts. It took a huge amount of time and effort to create the magnificent patchwork quilt we see in Wales today and the old saying was ‘thank a farmer for your food’. Would it be unreasonable to call for people to also plant crops to avoid the mass transportation of food to our supermarkets. Community incentives for shared garden space, community plots, community farms, which could also generate employment. Placing an onus of  duty on developers to plant these trees and provide allotments. For a huge number of families in Wales putting food on the table is hard enough. Going out and paying £100 for a tree is beyond the means of most working class families. It is unrealistic to say the least. Maybe it symbolises just how far out of touch politicians are with the people they represent. When considering climate change the approach has to be take a broader brush and include a long term view of how our food chain could look in 25 years or 50 years time. We saw the impact the Covid pandemic had on the availability of food. It seems that whether we want it or not we are going to see the landscape changing with farmers provided with financial incentives to sell farms, which we may never see return.

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