Large scale afforestation will decimate rural communities warns farming union
National Farmers Union in Wales has warned that rural farming communities in Wales could be “decimated” if plans for blanket afforestation go ahead.
The warning comes amid large scale government plans to plant millions of trees across the country to create a new national forest which stretches from the north to the south of Wales.
However, with a number of large Welsh farms being sold to investment firms who plan to use the land to offset carbon emissions, there is growing concern in local communities.
Frongoch Farm in the Carmarthenshire village of Cwrt-y-Cadno was sold earlier this year to Foresight Group which is a multi-billion-pound private equity firm based in The Shard.
A group of locals from Cwrt-y-Cadno, led by John Llewellyn, told Sky News that they are concerned that the afforestation will be largely made up of conifers and that could have a negative impact on the landscape and soil quality.
Mr Llewellyn said: “This area is threatened by a slow black blanket of fir trees. Our concern is an afforestation proposal has been agreed and a non-native company, with a non-native adviser and a non-native agent, is coming in to plant trees which we think are the wrong trees, in the wrong place for the wrong reason.”
Frongoch Farm was sold by farmer John Thomas whose family worked and lived there for nearly 70 years, and when he retired three years ago, he hoped the new owners would safeguard it for future generations of farmers.
Last year, however, it was resold at auction, in excess of the guide price to The Foresight Group, which owns three other large Welsh farms.
John Davies, NFU Cymru president said: “There is a great deal of concern because family farms are the backbone of our rural communities in Wales and if you see this happening, that removes those families from those areas, and it removes those job opportunities for 30, 40 years.
“What we want to see is the forestry approach integrated into farming here. This isn’t an option of trees good, cows bad, this is about fully integrating our woodland approach into our agricultural going forward.
“If you’re seeing a monoculture approach to this and blanket afforestation – that’s a fundamental change and that’s not what we’re looking for in Wales. It’s decimation of that community really, isn’t it?”
In December, Barmouth farmer, Cllr Gethin Glyn Williams, called on the Welsh Government to amend the the guidelines of agricultural funding schemes and ensure that taxpayers’ public money does not leave Wales as huge firms try to offset their carbon footprint.
His motion, which was unanimously backed by fellow councillors, followed similar calls from farming unions amid concerns that family farms are being snapped up at an “alarming rate,” to the detriment of Welsh language and culture.
He said: “Over the centuries the lands and resources of Wales have been used for extraction of all manner of commodities for the benefit of others.
“The latest ‘commodity‘ being seized upon from our landscape is the potential in carbon, as investment companies from outside Wales are purchasing farms, gaining large Glastir Woodland Creation (GWC) grants and using the land for afforestation to offset their carbon emissions.”
The Welsh Government said it will launch a consultation on its National Forest plan after last year launching plans to create a National Forest for Wales, which was designed to increase the number of trees being planted every year to improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gases.
Deputy Minister for Climate Change Lee Waters said: “We need to plant 86 million trees by the end of this decade if we are to meet ‘net zero’ carbon emissions by 2050.
“Properly managed this also offers a considerable opportunity to the rural economy to create green jobs and skills in harvesting timber for high value goods.
“We are keen to avoid outside interests buying up land and we want to work with Welsh farmers and landowners to achieve this.”
The Foresight Group confirmed that it intends to use the land for afforestation with plans to plant thousands of trees across the valley and that it is applying for Welsh government grants, under the Glastir scheme, but added it targeted less fertile land for afforestation projects.
In a statement Foresight said: “We will be planting a diverse species mix at Frongoch comprising over 25% non-commercial broadleaves. Foresight never plants trees on land that can support productive, commercial food crop growth.
“A key part of our approach to afforestation is always to consult and work with local communities before any planting begins.”
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