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Welsh Government postpones Sustainable Farming Scheme following rural backlash

In a move welcomed by Countryside Alliance Wales, the Welsh Government has postponed the Sustainable Farming Scheme, which would have required farmers to allocate 20 percent of their land to environmental measures.

Scheduled to replace EU-era direct subsidies for Welsh farmers next year, the scheme faced backlash primarily due to its requirement for farmers to set aside a fifth of their land for woodland and wildlife habitat.

The proposals prompted hundreds of farmers to protest outside the Senedd in February – attended by Countryside Alliance Wales --, while several other protests swept across the countryside. Organisers claimed the demonstrations were the last resort of an increasingly desperate community who felt no one in Cardiff had been listening to them.

Following the announcement, Rural Affairs Secretary Huw Irranca-Davies announced on Tuesday that the commencement of the transition to the new scheme would be delayed until 2026. This decision follows a consultation process that concluded in March.

He said the decision had been made after “meaningful engagement with the farming sector”.

“We have always said the scheme would not be introduced until it is ready and I stand by that,” Mr Irranca-Davies said.

Further decisions will be made about how the older direct subsidies will be phased out after 2025.

A Welsh Government analysis found the Sustainable Farming Scheme could lead to a reduction in working hours equivalent to 5,500 rural jobs, as well as a £200 million reduction in farming income due to its taking of agricultural land out of production. This compounds the external pressures already faced by farmers, including Schmallenberg virus, which has caused significant losses in both lambs and calves, pylons across Wales eating into land availability for Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ’s), and Bovine TB which puts extreme stress onto farmers.

Countryside Alliance Wales has also warned against agricultural land being purchased by Natural Resources Wales on behalf of the Government to plant trees, an issue which has faced considerable opposition among rural communities concerned about its impact on food security. The organisation was also a vocal opponent over the controversial decision to license the release of gamebirds, which saw over 12,000 people register their opposition to changes which will have a negative impact on both conservation and the rural economy.

Rachel Evans, Director of the Countryside Alliance Wales, said:

“We cautiously welcome the announcement but remain fully of the view that the Welsh Government needs to do much more to the bridge the gap with rural Wales and get out of the ‘Cardiff vs countryside’ mindset.”

"The new Cabinet Secretary Huw Irranca-Davies has made a considerable effort since he came into post to meet and engage with landowners, but we can’t underestimate the need to expand on this work to secure a vibrant, economically and environmentally sound countryside for the people of Wales to enjoy.”


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