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Thousands descend on Cardiff as frustrations build in the countryside

After weeks of meetings and tractor demonstrations across Wales, the farming community gathered outside the Senedd on Wednesday 28 February to vent their concerns directly to the Welsh Government and Senedd Members.

Tensions have been building for the last few years between Labour and the countryside. The Alliance has documented issues such as the purchase of agricultural land by Natural Resources Wales on behalf of the Government to plant trees, the intention to license the release of gamebirds and recently asked both candidates bidding to be Wales’s next First Minister how they would lead Labour away from the war on the countryside. Both Vaughan Gething and Jeremy Miles have responded.

Yesterday’s protest focused on three main issues that the farming community have rallied together to seek a resolution for, as they pose a direct threat to the future of farming in Wales. Policies under question include Nitrate Vulnerable Zones, a lack of proper action to eradicate Bovine TB and recently the Sustainable Farming Scheme, which have all caused significant worry and distress to the farming community who have formed their campaign “enough is enough”. The cumulative effect of these policies is a significant burden on the industry and needs to be addressed as farmers feel that Welsh Government have dealt with all of the issues inadequately. 

Busses from all over Wales shipped people to the Bay where they were met on the steps by several Senedd Members from both the Welsh Conservatives and Plaid Cymru who were eager to ensure that the public knew they were on their side.

Several speakers spoke to the crowd including the party leaders from the Welsh Conservatives and Plaid Cymru. Andrew R T Davies and Rhun Ap Iorwerth were joined by passionate speeches from Samuel Kurtz and Llyr Gruffydd. The most touching speeches were from two farmers, relaying their nightmare of losing everything after battling with Bovine TB. Other speakers included former rugby referee Nigel Owens and Gareth Wyn Jones.

Back in the chamber the Minister for Rural Affairs Lesley Griffiths took questions from several Senedd Members almost all of them raised concerns about the proposed Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) and the devastating impact this will have on the majority of farms across Wales, particularly referencing the Welsh Government’s own modelling whereby they state that over 5,000 jobs will be lost in the farming sector.

There was no escaping the damning of the “SFS” scheme for the Welsh Government as a motion to scrap the scheme was proposed and debated passionately on the floor of the chamber. Jane Dodds, Liberal Democrat for Mid and West Wales voted with the Welsh Conservatives and Plaid Cymru to support the motion which was then voted down despite a tie in voting numbers,  as the Deputy Presiding officer David Rees MS for Aberavon used his casting vote opposing the motion. The same scenario was played out an hour later for the motion on Bovine TB tabled by Plaid Cymru when the Deputy Presiding Officer once again exercised his vote and voted the motion down.

This is undoubtedly not the end of what is likely to be a lengthy programme of protests as farmers and businesses associated with farming fight for their futures.

There is an opportunity here for Labour to listen to and to take positive action for the thousands of voices that descended on Cardiff Bay as well as those who were at home in their lambing and calving sheds. A new First Minister for Wales will be announced on the 16 March when we will find out who, if anyone will lead Labour away from the war on the countryside.

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