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Welsh Government accused of ignoring scientific evidence on sustainable farming

27 Feb 2024 4 minute read
Farmer in tractor.

Emily Price

A conservation charity has heavily criticised proposed post-Brexit agriculture reforms and accused the Welsh Government of ignoring scientific evidence.

A consultation is currently underway for the Welsh Government’s new Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) which will replace grants once received when Wales was part of the European Union.

It will use public money to help farmers in Wales produce food sustainably, tackle the climate and nature emergencies and restore ecosystems.

The Welsh Government says the SFS is necessary in the fight against climate change.

‘Barrier’

It will require farmers to bring their existing tree and woodland cover up to 10% – and earmark another 10% for habitat.

The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) says the requirements are not realistic and are simply unachievable for some farmers.

The independent wildlife conservation charity has carried out scientific research into the UK’s game and wildlife since the 1930s.

It has warned that under the current SFS proposals, farmers will either not opt-in – or be forced out of business, leading to “dire consequences” for Welsh wildlife and the environment.

Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths has said alterations will be made to the scheme before it is rolled out next year.

But the charity says it shared scientific evidence with the Welsh Government which demonstrated why hedgerows should be included in the 10% woodland requirement – but the evidence has so far been ignored.

Woodland

GWCT argue that good-sized hedgerows provide equal or better carbon storage than 1 hectare of low-yield woodland of all species commonly planted in Wales.

The charity says that in several cases, the hedgerows exceed the carbon sequestration of moderate-yield woodland over ten years.

Under the current SFS proposals a hawthorn bush in an area of scrub can be counted towards the woodland cover requirement – but a hawthorn bush within a hedge cannot.

GWCT says it shared evidence derived from work on the Hedgerow Carbon Code and other means of carbon capture on farms with the Welsh Government.

But the conservation charity says the Welsh Government has “not yet shown interest”.

They say their own demonstration farm manages approximately 12 – 13% as ecologically enhanced habitat for wildlife recovery and has reversed farmland bird declines.

The charity has also accused the Welsh Government of refusing to look at the science of predation management which can be used to aid wildlife recovery.

Concerns have been raised that the SFS consultation – which is in its final week – is a consultation “in name only”.

The Welsh Government says it is listening to farming communities and has encouraged farmers to contribute to the consultation.

GWCT says the SFS in its current form is not a realistic agri-environment scheme which properly rewards farmers for nature recovery alongside profitable, productive farming.

Impact

GWCT Director Wales Lee Oliver said: “If the sector is damaged, food security becomes an obvious issue, however, Welsh Government have also failed to recognise the wider economic impact which will have a negative knock-on effect on the environment as well as other businesses that rely upon farming in rural areas. As farmers will tell you, they can’t be green if they are in the red.

“Therefore, if the 10% tree planting is purely to meet targets for carbon sequestration the science here is complex and far from straightforward forward and tree planting is an oversimplified solution.”

A mass protest by farmers frustrated with the proposed agriculture reforms is expected outside the Senedd on Wednesday (February 27).

Future

Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Farming is very important to Wales and our economy and we want a successful future for Welsh farming.

“We have had a seven-year conversation with farmers to design future farming support and we are committed to continuing to working with farmers to develop the Sustainable Farming Scheme.

“The scheme is currently out for consultation and we would like to thank the thousands of farmers who have already responded and attended the 10 Welsh Government Roadshow sessions across Wales.

“Hedges in good condition are proposed to count towards the 10% habitat requirement and also the 10% woodland cover requirement should they be over 3m high. This recognises the valuable benefit of hedges to the farmer and the environment.

“We fully expect to make changes to the proposals as a result of the consultation. We are listening and we will consider all responses. We encourage everyone to reply with their views by 7 March.”


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Jeff
Jeff
1 month ago

Game and wildlife? They the ones that manage the country side for blowing birds to bits and that shooting industry imports millions of birds a year? I don’t know if Labour have it right but would love to see some other views. Apart from people that want us to eat more squirrels.

Anyone tried to buy welsh lamb? Yeah. I dont cos cost.

David
David
1 month ago

The Labour AM’s think that a wire fence is the same as a hedgerow.

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