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Don’t blame hill farmers for climate change says Plaid Cymru Senedd candidate

02 Dec 2020 4 minute read
Picture by Osian Hedd Harries

A Plaid Cymru candidate for the Senedd has come to the defence of farmers who are being blamed for climate change.

Mabon ap Gwynfor, who is standing for the seat of Dwyfor Meirionnydd, criticised the journalist Simon Jenkins for suggesting that farmers were partly responsible for severe floods.

Mr ap Gwynfor accused the Guardian columnist of making “generalisations” that were both “incorrect and unhelpful” in an article for the Spectator.

He also said that blaming hill farmers for the climate catastrophe was a “distraction which means that the real culprits within the food sector are ignored.”

Mr Jenkins took aim at farmers as well as the UK Government on the issue of severe flooding in a Guardian column.

He said: “When Cockermouth in Cumbria was submerged in 2009, it was clear that a prime cause was the expedited drainage from Lake District hill farms to promote grazing pasture.

“When the Somerset Levels were flooded in 2014, a prime cause was the change of use of surrounding hills to growing high-density maize, exposing soil to runoff. Likewise, subsidised conifer plantations have everywhere debased vegetation and produced irregular spate rivers.”



Mr ap Gwynfor felt that this criticism of farmers was unfair.

He said: “The journalist Simon Jenkins suggested hill farmers were partly to the blame for the severe floods seen at the beginning of this year.

“Such generalisations are both incorrect and unhelpful. Climate change has meant that the sheer volume of water discharged onto our hills in such a short period of time is unprecedented.

“These extreme weather conditions mean that climate change is becoming a more direct concern for people and, consequently, more scrutiny is given to practices that contribute to the emergency that we’re facing.

“Now, as our sheep farmers are putting the rams out preparing for the next lambing season, they again find themselves under attack, and blamed for the climate emergency, with ‘a leg of lamb’ now being cited as a particularly guilty cause of climate change.

“While global farming might indeed be is a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, blaming lambs, or more accurately sheep farmers, for the climate catastrophe is a distraction which means that the real culprits within the food sector are ignored.

“The real culprit, and one which we must all take responsibility for, is food waste.

“Billions of tonnes of rice, potatoes, and wheat is produced throughout the world each year and billions of tonnes are wasted, representing gigatonnes of greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere.

“In the UK alone we waste nearly a million loaves of bread every day. And with each loaf having a carbon footprint of roughly 1kg of CO2, this is the equivalent of nearly 1000 tonnes of CO2 every day.

“We pour 40,000 tonnes of wine down the drain each year, which is ‘equivalent to almost 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions’, according Prof David Reay, in his book Climate Smart Food, where he gives numerous other eye watering examples of food waste and its impact on the climate.

“This is a far bigger environmental problem than lamb production and is one which we must collectively and urgently look to tackle if we are to ensure that global greenhouse gas emissions decrease.

“We cannot absolve ourselves of responsibility by pointing the finger of blame at farmers on our wind-swept hills. In fact, instead of berating our sheep farmers we should be supporting them.

“They produce the finest quality produce. They are, by and large, small family farms producing sustainable food locally.

“There are global concerns about meat production, certainly, with greedy ranches cutting down vast swathes of forest to increase their cattle herds, and these are issues that need to be tackled.

“We can play our part in this too, by looking at the source of our food, and ensuring that it is sustainably produced with as little food miles as possible.

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