Farming union chief hits out at ‘devastating’ impact of tree plantations on Welsh culture
A farming union chief has hit out at the “devastating” impact of vast tree plantations on rural communities and Welsh culture.
FUW County Executive Committee member Dafydd Gwyndaf has argued that the “depopulation” of Cwm Penmachno and Penmachno villages, in Conwy, was the result of “large-scale afforestation”.
He said this was because the Forestry Commission bought many of the farms on one side of the valley and planted trees on the land from the 1940’s to the 1960’s.
According to the farmer, to make room for the trees, the farm houses were sold, which resulted in many of them becoming second homes or holiday homes.
He pointed to the population of the area decreasing since then (617 – 2011 Census), and the percentage of Welsh speakers falling from 84% in 1981 to 55% 2011.
Gwyndaf made his case following a recent meeting between Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) members and Aberconwy MP Robin Millar, which was hosted at Llechwedd Hafod farm in Cwm Penmachno.
Conservative MP Robin Millar was also told of fears that more land will be sold in the near future at the far end of the valley and of concern that it will be bought by people or institutions only interested in planting trees.
Dafydd Gwyndaf said: “It’s sure to lead to yet another disaster for the area and resulting in more depopulation, and with that the destruction of our rural communities, culture and way of life.
“We are supportive of planting trees but our politicians need to be aware of the devastating consequences this will have on their constituents if such plans are not thought through.
“The Forestry Commission’s track record and NRW (Natural Resources Wales) is not very good. Much tighter legislation needs to be prepared in order to ensure that our communities aren’t abused by individuals or institutions that are only interested in short term fixes without any regard to wider repercussions.”
He also said: “Afforestation has resulted in too many people leaving the area and has resulted in over 30% of the houses in the area being turned into second homes or AirBnB.
“It is having a detrimental effect on the community, it’s culture and consequently the Welsh language. The depopulation of Cwm Penmachno and Penmachno villages is living proof of the result of large-scale afforestation and we don’t want to see the same happening to other communities.
“The promises made by the Forestry Commission at the time included that they would be employing more than the agriculture industry in the area.
“Today, no more than a handful of forestry workers live in the villages as NRW use large contractors who come from outside the area more often than not.
Robin Millar said: “This is why it’s so important that as many as possible respond to the call for evidence into the new inquiry into ‘The economic and cultural impacts of trade and environmental policy on family farms in Wales’.
“It was very interesting to hear about the experiences of the FUW members who remember so well how vibrant communities like Cwm Penmachno and Penmachno used to be and the detrimental effect the afforestation of the area has proved to have on the region.”