Natural Resources Wales to review controversial afforestation project
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
Wales’ environment watchdog is reviewing a decision it made about a controversial forestry planting scheme in Carmarthenshire after being challenged by conservationists.
Natural Resources Wales (NRW) said it was aware of the concerns raised by the group, called Initiative for Nature Conservation Cymru (INCC), regarding a 73-hectare tree-planting scheme at Frongoch, in the Cothi Valley.
The group said it had serious concerns that NRW decided the private afforestation project did not require environmental impact assessment approval or a habitats assessment, which the group claimed effectively meant that no further consent was necessary.
The INCC queried this because of the scale of the proposed scheme and its proximity to a designated special area of conservation, site of special scientific interest, and special protection area.
It said it was worried that a number of potential impacts on these protected sites were not properly considered or assessed by the regulator, and also that the ecological value of the planned fir and spruce plantation may have been over-estimated.
INCC chief executive Rob Parry, said: “The issue in this case was that despite the scale and sensitive location of this proposal, many of the potential impacts of the scheme were not considered by NRW at all.”
After seeking legal advice the group wrote to NRW to say it was concerned that the decision-making process and consideration of the proposal may have been unlawful. It had the backing of naturalist and broadcaster Iolo Williams, who said safeguarding precious wildlife sites was “the very least” NRW should do.
The farm had been bought by an investment firm called Foresight Group and is one of several in Wales that have been snapped up by outside investors with the aim of planting tress to offset carbon emissions.
Although tree-planting offsets emissions – and is strongly supported by the Welsh Government – there is unease and anger among some that farmland in Wales will be lost.
The INCC said woodland cover could be an important contribution to addressing climate and nature depletion, but said poorly-designed planting schemes could negatively impact on wildlife and even, it claimed, lead to a net loss of carbon.
It said the time limit for bringing any legal challenge to the Frongoch farm scheme had passed but called on NRW to re-evaluate the way it considered environmental impact and habitats assessment questions.
Solicitor Carol Day, of Leigh Day, which acted for the INCC: “We hope the INCC’s letter will lead to a change in the way NRW assesses future schemes.”
In response to the letter, Martyn Evans, NRW’s head of South West Wales operations, said: “We take our role to protect and enhance Wales’ natural environment very seriously.
“Wales’ sites of special scientific interest and special areas of conservation are an important part of its natural heritage, hosting a diverse range of rare plants, wildlife and landscapes. Any application concerning changes to land within the proximity of such sites is subject to thorough processes and scrutiny.
“We are aware of the INCC’s concerns relating to this specific application and are reviewing our determination of the proposal.”
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.