Welsh language concern as companies buy farms for tree planting to offset carbon emissions
An MP has raised concerns for the Welsh language following reports that international companies are buying hundreds of acres of land in mid and west Wales for tree planting.
Ceredigion MP Ben Lake said that farmers have recently reported that whole farms, as much as 300 acres, have been purchased by major international companies to offset their carbon footprint.
He said that such developments could “allow rural communities and the Welsh language to be undermined for the sake of a greenwashed business-as-usual”.
Speaking in the House of Commons, the Plaid Cymru member called instead for regulated tree planting that shows sensitivity to local biodiversity and communities.
He said that “large companies are already purchasing vast tracts of agricultural land in the upper Teifi and Tywi valleys for forestry and carbon offsetting and are doing so in a manner that internalises financial gain and externalises the social, economic and cultural costs”.
“Those costs increasingly pose an existential challenge to Welsh farmers and rural communities and are inimical to efficient land use and a just transition,” he said.
Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth Anne-Marie Trevelyan responded by suggesting that Ben Lake speak with the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to discuss funding that could go to communities to offset the costs.
“I endorse and agree with the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts), and share their passion for all those nature-based solutions, which are critical to helping us to sequester carbon from trees to peat,” she said.
“I am a particular advocate for peat restoration across Northumberland, for obvious, biased reasons.”
Speaking before the debate, Ben Lake said that while tree planting had a crucial role in addressing the climate and biodiversity crisis it should be regulated to avoid “unintended consequences” for rural communities.
“Tackling climate change should not be an opportunity for large companies to greenwash their emissions while continuing to emit millions of tonnes of CO2,” he said.
“To be successful, tree planting projects must have local control, with rural communities working alongside the Welsh Government so that they benefit from this transition. We must not allow businesses to buy farms, allow rural communities and the Welsh language to be undermined for the sake of a greenwashed business-as-usual.”
In an oral statement in the Senedd yesterday, Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters, said that Wales needed a “step change” in woodland creation.
He said that he had spoken with representatives of the many groups with an interest, including farmers, foresters, environmental NGOs, timber processors and house builders about how best to go about creating new woodland.
“The deep dive has identified a number of actions to improve our engagement with communities and make it easier for them to navigate interactions with local authorities and NRW, which can often appear complicated and restrictive,” he said.
“We will also be working with public bodies to map land they own to proactively identify where more trees can be planted.
“It is vital that we work with, and learn from, the farmers and other landowners in Wales who will need to plant many of these trees. We need to demonstrate the benefits that planting trees can have alongside other farming activities, both from a financial and social perspective, while avoiding planting on the most productive farming land. This includes not just planting new woodlands but also ‘hedges and edges’, such as trees along field boundaries, scattered trees and shelterbelts.
“There are some excellent examples to learn from, including the Stump Up For Trees project in Brecon, a project led by farmers in consensus with communities to plant trees on unproductive land, to create new sources of income whilst protecting our communities in the longer term.
“We need many more examples like these, so I am establishing a new working group to urgently consider models to attract investment in woodland creation without disrupting existing communities and patterns of landownership.”