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Wales in danger of ‘selling the family jewels’ to outside companies as farms snapped up for afforestation

18 Aug 2021 4 minutes Read
Forest

Wales is in danger of “selling the family jewels” to outside companies who are buying up farms and turning them into forests in order to offset their own carbon emissions.

Farmers Union Wales President Glyn Roberts said that selling farmland to companies outside Wales could undermine the nation’s ability to tackle its own contribution to climate change.

“It would be counter-intuitive and a potential disaster if we sold off the carbon we store and sequester in Wales to businesses in other countries, and in so doing force our own businesses to buy carbon credits from other countries in future at inflated costs,” he said.

“Selling carbon credits to businesses looking to offset their carbon emissions may represent a profitable option or even a lifeline for some farmers.

“However, the same carbon cannot then be used to offset a farm’s own carbon emissions, and members are concerned that a rush to sell off carbon could hamper future generations’ ability to meet net-zero targets.”

The warning comes after a mid-Wales MP raised the alarm that whole farms, as much as 300 acres, had been purchased by major international companies to offset their carbon footprint.

Ceredigion MP Ben Lake said that such developments could “allow rural communities and the Welsh language to be undermined for the sake of a greenwashed business-as-usual”.

‘Next generation’

During a recent meeting of the FUW’s Land Use and Parliamentary Committee, members expressed extreme concern that a large proportion of the carbon locked and sequestered in Welsh land could be sold to other countries and companies outside Wales, undermining the ability of Welsh agriculture or even Wales as a whole to become carbon neutral.

The committee agreed that a quota system should be introduced to reduce this risk, and it was agreed at a subsequent meeting of the FUW’s Presidential Policy Team that the pros and cons of such limits should be the subject of detailed discussion by all FUW committee chairmen and the presidential team.

However, members of the union’s Presidential Policy Team highlighted the complexity and potential unforeseen consequences of introducing restrictions and quotas.

FUW Vice President Dai Miles said: “Quotas can have a wide range of complex consequences for businesses, as seen with the introduction of milk quotas in the 1980s, and this is an issue where we need to tread carefully.

“Quotas can artificially inflate or reduce the value of a commodity, depending on the circumstances, while introducing complex bureaucracy and limiting our ability to sell when markets are high, and we do not want to see Welsh farmers disadvantaged.”

Speculation about future carbon trading is believed to be a major driving force behind the purchase of large areas of Welsh farmland for tree planting by companies and individuals from outside Wales, raising concerns that a land grab is underway that will disenfranchise Welsh communities and strip them of their carbon assets.

“A key question is whether a proportion of the carbon we sequester on our land should be ring-fenced to agriculture first and foremost, with a further proportion ringfenced to Welsh companies or bodies – or should it just be a free market without any such limits or quotas?” said FUW Land Use and Parliamentary Committee Chairman Tudur Parry.

Many carbon offsetting contracts, Mr Parry said, are very long term commitments, which raises further issues for the next generations of farmers.

“For example, a farmer could plant a large area of trees and sell the carbon credits to a foreign company,” he said. “However, a carbon neutral requirement may be introduced in the future for all businesses, and Welsh Government already has a Net Zero target by 2050.

“But if the farmer has already sold those carbon credits abroad, the figures cannot be used to offset their own emissions, nor meet Welsh targets.”

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Dim problem
Dim problem
2 months ago

There’s clearly a balance to be struck between restoring the natural environment, reducing carbon emissions, absorbing and storing carbon (through e.g. tree planting), and using land for food production. Huge companies buying up Welsh farmland for their own greenwashing purposes is not the answer (and it doesn’t matter if those companies are based in London, Shanghai or Cardiff Bay – they shouldn’t be doing it).

Welshman21
Welshman21
2 months ago

Socialised small family farms are becoming a thing of the past – rich land owners are now buying up land as an investment and then asking for huge rents putting the smaller guy out of business.

Dim problem
Dim problem
2 months ago
Reply to  Welshman21

I heard on Farming Today that some estate owners are trying to push big rent rises onto tenant farmers now that Basic Payments are stopping. It makes me sick – tenant farmers are barely scraping a living as it is!

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
2 months ago

We are a small country, stop doing this! Mr Gething you must do something…

Keri
Keri
2 months ago

If we’re aware of it (we are) and we know it’s going to cause huge problems in the future for our country (it will). Let’s stop it immediately. Simples.

Keri
Keri
2 months ago
Reply to  Keri

Couldn’t planning legislation address the change of purpose of farming land to forestry and stop it that way? Food security issues must surely play a part in planning policy too?

Mandi A
Mandi A
2 months ago
Reply to  Keri

Quite so, the Wales Spatial Plan was the main guide to land use for years.

Richard
Richard
2 months ago

… but the question is how to stop it. Treating land as private property is theft and this report is one example of how the political failure to address allows rich individuals and colonial powers to feed off poor people and colonies alike. The remedy is Land Value Taxation (LVT) – the adoption of a tax on the value of any parcel of land. There is a large literature on the subject including https://archive.sustecweb.co.uk/past/sustec13-1/land_value_taxationrichard.htm, which I wrote more than 20 years ago. With LVT, Wales would recoup as tax the value of the annual carbon-capturing ability of each bit of… Read more »

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
2 months ago
Reply to  Richard

Oh dear, chestnuts. Sorry, like extra council tax on second homes, it just creates elite zones for the wealthy. If LVT was a solution, why hasn’t it been implemented? We are not a poor people nor should we be a colony but that’s up to us. You make policy, you set criteria to measure decisions against, like the Well Being of Future Generations Act and give the Planning Inspectorate more powers.

Richard
Richard
2 months ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

A curious ragbag of slurs. Did you read the article? In the time available before you posted, you skimmed it at best. What gives you the idea that LVT “creates elite zones for the wealthy”? It has been implemented in many places, with clear advantages, but never implemented consistently. I didn’t say the Welsh are a poor people, and the fact is that lack of LVT disadvantages poor people by depriving them of access to affordable land. Finally, consider the auctioning of the electromagnetic spectrum for communications – that’s a form of land value taxation and it works because no… Read more »

Mandi A
Mandi A
2 months ago
Reply to  Richard

I wish I could follow your argument. You asked how can we stop this? Since when has the UK, let alone Wales with its limited tax-raising powers, been successful in getting non-UK players to pay their quotas of tax? How would LVT payments be enforced? How would the monies be redistributed back to the contributing communities? This discussion seems very confused to me between carbon offset and land use. If land in Wales is sold off in this way, how do we feed ourselves in the halcyon days of independence? Any taxation system means those who can pay, can play.… Read more »

Richard
Richard
2 months ago
Reply to  Mandi A

Addressing your points in sequence, the question raised by other contributors including, massively, the original article, was “how to stop investors with no stake in the Welsh economy using Wales for their own purposes and damaging Welsh interests”. And I’m saying that LVT is the solution. Wales may have limited tax-raising powers now but that doesn’t take away from the strength of the LVT argument. Once LVT is implemented the payments are enforced, ultimately, by sequestering the land pending payment or by confiscation. Non-payment by non-UK players would be enforced in the same way. The fact that land and its… Read more »

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
2 months ago
Reply to  Richard

The only ‘slur’ came from you Dic

j humphrys
j humphrys
2 months ago

Nationalise the land without compensation.
Thus scare off would be carpetbaggers.
Farmers to be custodians.
Communities to be custodians.
Forest the border as much as possible.
Use Welsh timber for house frames where possible.

Dim problem
Dim problem
2 months ago
Reply to  j humphrys

Why forest the border? A few trees’ll hardly keep the English out. Or maybe you want to keep the Welsh in?!

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