Plaid Cymru suggest ‘Coldplay approach’ to planting trees to cut carbon emissions
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
Wales should take a leaf out of the band Coldplay’s book when trees were planted on its land, a councillor said.
Carmarthenshire councillor Carys Jones said she was worried that more family farms would be lost to outside companies which have been buying up land to plant trees to offset carbon emissions.
She seconded a motion at full council, which claimed multinational companies had already secured more than £1.3 million of Welsh Government funding via its Glastir Woodland Creation scheme to plant trees in Wales.
The motion, submitted by Plaid Cymru councillor Alun Lenny, called on ministers to ensure that only active farmers in Wales could claim Glastir support for tree-planting – or afforestation.
It also said new planning policies were needed to enable councils to control afforestation projects, and that planning permission should be required for such schemes when they took up more than a certain proportion of a farm.
The motion said the council supported the principle of responsible afforestation but that it should be done in consultation with local people and without a detrimental impact on local jobs, culture and community viability.
Cllr Jones said one company which had bought four farms in the region was seeking to float the afforestation business on the stock market.
“Is this how we are going to lose our farms, creating a financial profit for some investors?” she said.
Cllr Jones said Coldplay’s new initiative of planting one tree for every ticket sold for its world tour next year was an example of the right tree being planted in the right place, with community support.
“If a band can do it, I am sure a nation can,” she said.
Planting trees absorbs carbon dioxide and therefore helps against climate change, but concerns have been raised that productive land can be lost and that companies which use this method to offset emissions carry on emitting them rather than reducing them.
In July this year, the Welsh Government said 180,000 hectares of new woodland was needed by 2050.
Cllr Arwel Davies said this equated to 3,750 average-size family farms in Wales. Backing the motion, he said change of use planning consent should be an afforestation requirement.
Carmarthenshire Labour leader, Cllr Rob James, said the Welsh Government target needed to be met, and suggested that the Plaid-Independent council had been “quite slow” planting trees. But he said he was keen to ensure that local jobs were not lost as a result of afforestation.
Cllr Ann Davies said the right sort of grasses were as effective as trees at sequestering carbon, and that Wales only produced half of its food.
“Trees are not going to feed our residents,” she said.
Cllr Gareth Thomas said good grassland could sequester more carbon than trees while also supporting the production of meat, wool and milk.
Cllr Darren Price said afforestation had to be about the “the right tree in the right place for the right reason”, and felt subsidising outside interests in this growing sector was “absolutely immoral”.
Before the motion – which also called for a publicly-owned, arm’s length company to manage Wales’ forests – was approved, Cllr Alun Lenny said he believed the impact of irresponsible afforestation on rural communities would be “terrible”.
The “land grab” had started, he said, and “our indigenous communities are under threat”.
Retired farmer John Thomas told BBC Wales in August that the farm he had sold in Carmarthenshire’s Cothi Valley had been resold to a multi-national investment company based in London.
He said it was “breaking my heart” to see his childhood home become one of many sold to “huge, faceless companies in England” for planting trees.
“I feel very sad about it – I feel quite angry actually,” he said.
The company which bought it, Foresight, said it aimed to ensure that any land use change was done in as sensitive way as possible, that it always consulted local communities, and that it targeted less fertile land for afforestation.
This week the Welsh Conservatives called for agricultural safeguarding from corporate tree-planting.
The party’s Shadow Minister for Climate Change, Janet Finch Saunders, said: “It’s extremely concerning that more and more Welsh farms are under threat as once this land is lost from sustainable food production, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see them return.”
Forests are considerably more effective than grassland at offsetting carbon, according to Welsh Government methodology.
In response to the council motion, 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 Llanelli MS said a project in Abergavenny had shown this could be achieved alongside food production on unproductive land, with and control and ownership retained locally.
“We have set up an expert group to consider how we can scale this model across Wales,” he said.