Farmers unions raised alarm over a new subsidy scheme for tree planting. It was launched by the Welsh government and has attracted large companies to buy land.
UK businesses are contributing to Glastir Woodland Creation (GWC), a scheme that plants trees and offsets carbon emissions. However, there are reports that wealthy investors are outbidding farmers.
Although the project is intended to plant millions of trees across large areas of the Principality’s countryside, critics claim it has already had unintended effects.
The Welsh government has launched a number of initiatives offering initial grants of up to £4,500 per hectare to encourage tree planting across the country as it embarks on an ambitious climate commitment to see 86m new trees planted by 2030 – and 360m by 2050.But critics say the policy will damage community life, particularly in more rural areas, where traditional, family-run farms provide employment and local produce.
Blaenavon Farm, near Neath in South Wales is at risk from the ‘green rush’ of entrepreneurs buying land to claim large government grants
The Welsh government has launched a number of initiatives offering initial grants of up to £4,500 per hectare to encourage tree planting across the country
The farm unions claim that planting trees in Wales is more cost-effective than purchasing carbon offsets for their corporations.
Glyn Robbs, President of Farmers’ Union Wales stated that GWC could have an ‘adverse effect on agriculture, rural life, and the environment’. Whole farms in Wales were being purchased ‘almost daily’.
Recent figures show that an increasing proportion of GWC funds is used to plant trees in Wales on land purchased by outside investors.
Others are concerned that non-native conifers, which provide far more wildlife support than native species, have been planted in large quantities.
Richard Hopkins (pictured), fourth generation dairy farmer.
Farming Union of Wales head of policy, Dr Nick Fenwick said: ‘Within the past century, the area of woodland in Wales increased threefold… with the vast majority of the increase down to the planting of non-native conifers.
“The past century of experience has shown the devastating effects that policies designed to increase woodland area can cause. Large-scale, government-driven planting on previously used land for livestock production has caused ecosystems to be destroyed and forced entire communities from their homes.
Dr Fenwick stated that land that is used to grow crops has significantly greater productivity than the conifers. Furthermore, farming employs almost three times as many people as forestry.
“The historical record and figures raise alarming concerns over what is actually happening.
‘That said, Welsh farmers are actually keen to plant woodland and also manage the existing 75,700 hectares of woodland that they already have…but they face major obstacles to doing this and the market and policies seems to currently favour outside investors buying up Welsh land for afforestation to cash in on the growing carbon market.
“Those who purchase such land are almost always able to compete with local farmers and residents. This results in loss of farmland, habitat and income from other sources.
Critics argue that the policy will cause inequalities to communities, especially those living in rural areas. Traditional, family-run farms offer employment opportunities and produce local food.
A widespread forest fire could cause damage to the Welsh language. This is because it’s more common in rural areas.
Richard Hopkins was a fourth generation farmer on Blaenavon Farm, near Neath (South Wales), and he shared his story about how he lost the 250 acre family holding after his father’s death last year.
Mr Hopkins, 57, said: ‘The estate was divided between eight or nine beneficiaries, including myself, and the executors of my father’s will decided to sell the farm to an entrepreneur for just £550,000, including the five-bed farmhouse and a huge range of outbuildings.’
The buyer was located in Cornwall and immediately divided the farm, selling the outbuildings, house, and six acres to another person for close to the amount he paid.
The farmer then sold a few acres more to the neighboring farmer, and then called Tillhill to help him plant trees on the remaining land.
They aren’t even trying to plant native species. They will seed the land this winter with conifer seeds that they have imported from Norway.
“The farm will become unrecognizable in just a few years, because the conifers are so fast-growing.
It is a terrible thing. It was home to so many animals, both in the fields and hedges. Our milk yield was 70 gallons every day, and we had over 900 sheep.
It’s now going to be filled with conifers. They don’t produce any berries, nuts, or attract wildlife. The ground will have pine needles and it will feel damp and dark. You will not feel alive.
The scheme forwards an annual maintenance payment of £30-60 per hectare, plus an annual ‘premium’ payment of £350 per hectare if the new woodland is taken out of agricultural production, according to the Welsh Government
“I believe the Welsh government had good intentions. But, like many good intentions, there is a chance for people to profit from the policy.
Janet Finch–Saunders is also concerned, Tory MS Aberconwy at the Welsh Assembly.
She stated that, ‘While I support tree planting, we need to take the necessary steps to make sure the tree is placed in the correct place. We are seeing farms in Welsh-speaking communities being purchased to plant trees, as part of the carbon balance for large multinational corporations.
“This is the reason I have asked the Welsh Government to create a Just Transition Commission so that rural communities are not burdened by decarbonisation and the impact it has on the Welsh language, which was once a thriving one in rural Wales. It could be too late for families and individuals who wish to farm or rent land.
“I feel encouraged that there seems to be a cross-party willingness to take action. Can you be assured that I will try my best to protect food security, food production and farmers communities from the ravaging effects of trees?
A Welsh government spokesperson said: ‘The Glastir capital payment is a one off payment of £1,600-4,500 per hectare to pay for the planting of the trees. The type and type of wooded area, as well as the amount of trees used to plant them, determines the amount.
In addition, the scheme forwards an annual maintenance payment of £30-60 per hectare, plus an annual ‘premium’ payment of £350 per hectare if the new woodland is taken out of agricultural production, the spokesperson said, adding:
The scheme funded more than 1,500 ha of new woodland. Contracts for an additional 3,900 hectares have been made available, however plans are currently being verified to ensure that the woodland plans comply with the UK Forestry Standard.
“Welsh farmers are the majority of those who have received funding for projects. A few projects may be managed by people or organizations outside Wales. However, funding for tree planting should only go to woodland creation within Wales.
“Earlier this year the Deputy Minister of Climate Change performed a deep dive exercise in order to find ways to reduce barriers towards tree planting. An advisory group has been formed to study models that could attract investments in the creation of woodlands, while not disrupting current communities and landownership patterns.