Welsh Gov plan for ‘memorial woodland’ criticised by Countryside Alliance
The Countryside Alliance Wales has criticised the Welsh Government’s plan for commemorative woodlands in memory of those who have died during the pandemic.
The purchase of 94 hectares of Brownhill farm in Carmarthenshire, has prompted the rural campaigning organisation to call for an urgent re-think of land use policy.
Brownhill sits in the heart of the Towy Valley, between the farming villages of Llanwrda and Llangadog, which it says has until now been rented to farmers under a grazing and mowing licence.
It is also says that an area in the county where the shrill of one of Wales’s most endangered species, the Curlew, has still been heard in recent years.
The land was sourced and recommended for purchase by Natural Resources Wales (NRW), and the Countryside Alliance claims the move risks driving an even deeper wedge between the quango and local farmers.
The Welsh Government hopes that the memorial woodlands, intended as commemorative places where families and friends can remember lost loved ones, will symbolise Wales’ resilience during the pandemic as well as regeneration and renewal as the new woodlands grow.
National Trust Cymru’s Erddig Estate in Wrexham has also been identified as a site for commemorative woodlands. A third memorial woodland is planned for the southeast, although a site has yet to be identified.
Rachel Evans, Director of Countryside Alliance Wales said: “Whilst a Covid memorial woodland is a welcome proposal in principle, I strongly question why they have selected a predominantly productive agricultural parcel of land on the banks of the River Towy. This decision risks irreversibly changing the Welsh countryside as we know it to be.”
The organisation has accused the Welsh Government of fuelling what they says is the ever-increasing cost of agricultural land and undercutting and outbidding local farmers whilst progressing with their wider “Woodland Creation Programme”.
Ms Evans said: “It is fundamentally wrong for any Government to step in and buck the trend, forcing inflated prices of agricultural land favouring forestry over food production and gives a strong sense of where their priorities lie ahead of the proposed Agriculture (Wales) Bill expected this year.
“It risks contributing to the fragility of rural communities- those who put food on our tables during the pandemic- by out-pricing any other interested parties who have farmed this area for generations and were no doubt attempting to secure a future for the next.”
She pointed to a contrast to their plans for Brownhill, the Welsh Government have worked alongside the National Trust at Erddig near Wrexham and will establish another memorial woodlands on the National Trust Estate there.
Ms Evans added: “Why then, did they not strike the same deal with the National Trust at Dinefwr in Llandeilo just 14 miles further west of Brownhill?”
Miss Evans believes that rural communities are growing increasingly anxious over the number of corporate companies seemingly buying up land to offset their carbon emissions.
In January, London-based company Foresight, which had bought a farm with the intention of planting trees in nearby Pumsaint, indicated that they would modify their plans after a petition was set up by concerned residents.
She said: “We have been fearful for some time of large corporations following the trend of land grabbing farms in Wales to offset their carbon emissions. Now it seems that our own government- those tasked with spearheading agricultural policy- are possibly as big a threat.
“Tree planting projects while well intentioned, require very careful planning and must be carried out using the principle of the right tree in the right place. We urgently request the Welsh Government think very carefully about this and all future proposals. Local people must be part of any future consultation and evidence of engagement must be transparent”.
According to a Welsh Government spokesperson NRW has attempted to avoid valuable agricultural land, and has concentrated on land close to or on the edges of the Welsh Government’s woodland estate.
A spokesperson for the Welsh Government told BBC Wales: “At the Brownhill site (near Llangadog) NRW bought three of five available lots, bidding for those containing a large percentage of wetlands, brushwood and woodlands,” they said.
“In order to create 43,000 hectares of new woodland by 2030, some land will need to change usage from agricultural use to woodland and we want farmers to be central to this, but the woodlands will be created for local communities in consultation with local communities.”
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