Campaigners welcome plans for farming to continue on site of new memorial woodland
Campaigners have welcomed support from Climate Change Minister Julie James for the continuation of farming on land purchased by the Welsh Government earlier this year.
In February, the government announced that new memorial woodlands would be created at three separate sites, including a section of farmland at Brownhill in Carmarthenshire’s Tywi Valley.
The plans involve planting trees, sparking fears among local people that valuable agricultural land will be lost.
The Countryside Alliance met with Julie James MS at the site of the proposed Brownhill memorial woodland last week, while inspecting the rest of the land that Natural Resources Wales (NRW) acquired on the government’s behalf.
The meeting follows months of campaigning, including a petition which called on the Welsh Government and NRW to ‘stop purchasing productive farmland to plant trees which threatens our fragile rural communities, heritage, culture and the Welsh language’.
Agreement was reached at the meeting, organised by Natural Resources Wales, over two significant issues within the site’s 200 plus acres: the importance of protecting rare Curlew in the valley and the need to intertwine farming and woodland creation on the better pieces of land, which have been used to grow food for generations.
Proposals were advanced for a section of the land to be designated as ‘growing space’ in an area that had been marked for potential “closed canopy woodland”, which would have seen quality agricultural land disappear under a carpet of trees.
The Alliance strongly urged that this section should be used for producing Welsh beef and lamb.
The Countryside Alliance also called for the introduction of Rural Community Impact Assessments, which would see the government considering the potential impact of tree planting on food security and the local community.
Rachel Evans, the Alliance’s Director for Wales, said: “It was incredibly important to put our ongoing concerns about tree-planting at this site directly to decision makers. We are pro-planting the right tree in the right place, but there are clearly significant parts of Brownhill which bolster our national food production and ability to remain self-sufficient”.
“I was delighted to hear the Minister support our suggestion that food such as Welsh lamb and beef will continue to be produced on this section of land.
“This is a positive step and will ensure that the more valuable agricultural sections of the site remain used for food production”.
“Going forward, dialogue between the Government and local communities must be a priority when it comes to tree-planting proposals. Local people must be part of the process and not feel as though decisions are being imposed on them and their local area without consideration of their views.
“Our proposal to conduct Rural Community Impact Assessments will go a long way in alleviating communal anxiety in the future, and we sincerely hope the Welsh Government will commit to carrying them out as a matter of standard procedure.”
Julie James, Minister for Climate Change said: “I welcomed the opportunity to visit the site with Countryside Alliance and NRW, which will become one of our first commemorative woodlands to remember family and friends lost to Covid 19.
“However, a large site like this offers lots of opportunities to be innovative, to trial and showcase different ways of working.
“Following feedback from local communities NRW have devised a plan which combines tree planting with food production and can be an exemplar of what we would like to see on farms across Wales if we are to address the climate change emergency”.
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