by Rachel Evans CA

Director of Countryside Alliance Wales, Rachel Evans, shares a letter from Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters MS, in response to the ongoing successful campaign to save productive farmland from mass tree-planting. Thanks to your help, the issue is now well and truly in the political spotlight. 

Thank you to all those who supported the Countryside Alliance Wales' e-lobby calling on the Welsh Government and Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to stop purchasing productive farmland for tree planting. I wanted to share with you some positive news which has come as a result of your support.

I am very pleased to say that I'll be meeting with the Minister for Climate Change, Julie James MS, alongside NRW officials later this month, onsite at Brownhill, Llangadog in Carmarthenshire. It is without doubt that the campaign you have been a part of has accelerated this opportunity.

I also spoke with many NRW staff members at the Royal Welsh Show, including some board members, and it is evident that the pressure of our campaign has been felt in people's inboxes.

The media response to our campaign has been phenomenal, with millions of people across Wales and the rest of the UK empathising with our concern about using productive farmland to mass plant trees when we are facing a food security crisis. You can read coverage from ITV WalesBBCNation CymruBrecon & Radnor Express and Agriland.

One of Wales’ best-loved broadcasters, Roy Noble, also signed up to the campaign. In a passionate ‘personal plea to high officialdom’, Mr Noble said he had “real empathy” with farming families who “are out-bid” for land purchases by “financial combines”, who use it to offset their carbon emissions elsewhere by planting trees. He accused them of having “no empathy for, or real understanding of farming or the countryside”. You can read more about what Roy had to say, here

The Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters, has now acknowledged the strength of the campaign in a letter to me which you can read here. There are a number of issues within the letter that I will be challenging in my reply, but it is again with thanks to you that the Welsh Government has taken our concerns seriously. This will, hopefully, help in finding a way forward to protect our productive farmland in Wales.

In the letter, the Minister reiterates the Welsh Government’s commitment to planting 43,000 hectares of woodland by 2030 as part of Government’s actions to combat climate change. However, he stresses that Welsh Government want “farmers to be central to planting more trees in Wales and to benefit from the opportunities of creating woodland whilst also supporting food production”. He also notes that Welsh Government are keen to avoid outside interests buying up land and that Government want to work with Welsh landowners to achieve this.

This is exactly what we, the Countryside Alliance want to hear, however, there are parts of his letter which mirror the excuses given by NRW, who have no doubt provided the copy. The Minister refers to NRW’s purchase of a “very small proportion of land in Wales” for “fair market value” and that NRW are “transparent” and “non-aggressive” when they bid for land. A recent Freedom of Information request made by the Countryside Alliance in relation to further land purchases or “land swaps” at Brownhill, Llangadog was refused, firmly putting paid to NRW’s claims of transparency.

It seems that the Minister is onside but there are huge gaps in what is being relayed to Government from Natural Resources Wales and the reality of the land in question on the ground. 

The donations made towards our campaign have gone a long way in being able to further our work and I thank you sincerely for this. You can still donate today if you wish, here.

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