The Countryside Alliance has welcomed support from the Minister for Climate Change that a significant portion of the land purchased by the Welsh Government for one of the three Covid Memorial Forests will continue to be used to produce foods such as lamb and Welsh beef.
In February, the Welsh Government announced that new memorial forests would be created at three separate sites, including a section of farmland at Brownhill in the Tywi Vale in Carmarthenshire.
The plans involve the planting of trees, causing local people to fear the loss of valuable farmland.
The rural organization met Julie James MS at the site of the proposed memorial forest, while inspecting the rest of the land that Natural Resources Wales (NRW) has acquired on behalf of the government.
This comes after months of campaigning by Countryside Alliance, including a petition calling on the Welsh Government and NRW to ‘stop buying up productive farmland to plant trees which threaten our fragile rural communities, heritage, culture and language Welsh”.
The meeting, which was requested by the Countryside Alliance and facilitated by Natural Resources Wales, gave those present the opportunity to discuss their concerns and reach agreement on two important factors within the 200+ acre site: the importance of protecting the rare curlew in the valley and the need to intertwine agriculture and the creation of forests on the best plots of land, which have been used to grow food for generations.
NRW and the Minister have agreed with the Alliance on the need to protect the curlew, a critically endangered species and which has already been and will continue to be part of the NRW site assessment process, particularly in the development of “conservation space” a space intended to protect biodiversity.
Initial proposals included an area marked for a potential ‘closed canopy forest’, which would have seen prime farmland disappear under a carpet of trees.
The second round of consultation now proposes this section of land as a “space for growth”. The Alliance has strongly argued that it should be used for the production of Welsh beef and lamb.
The Countryside Alliance also highlighted the importance of introducing rural community impact assessments, which would allow the government to examine the potential impact of tree planting on food security and the local community.
Rachel Evans, Alliance director for Wales, also suggested a community open day at the Covid site, which is likely to be continued.
Ms Evans said: ‘It was extremely important to raise our concerns about tree planting at this site directly with decision-makers. We support planting the right tree in the right place, but there are clearly important parts of Brownhill that strengthen our national food production and our ability to remain self-sufficient.
“I was delighted to hear the minister back our suggestion that foods such as Welsh lamb and beef will continue to be produced on this section of land. This is a positive step and will ensure that the most valuable agricultural sections of the site remain used for food production.
“Going forward, dialogue between the government and local communities must be a priority when it comes to tree planting proposals.
“Local people need to be part of the process and not feel like decisions are being imposed on them and their region without considering their views.
“Our proposal to carry out rural community impact assessments will go a long way to alleviating community anxiety in the future, and we sincerely hope that the Welsh Government will commit to carrying them out as part of a standard procedure. ”
Julie James, Minister for Climate Change, said: “I have enjoyed the opportunity to visit the site with Countryside Alliance and NRW, which will become one of our first memorial woods to remember family and friends lost at cause of covid 19.
“However, a large site like this offers plenty of opportunities to innovate, test and showcase different ways of working.
“Following feedback from local communities, NRW has devised a plan which combines tree planting with food production and can be an example of what we would like to see on farms in Wales if we are to cope with the urgency of climate change”.
Natural Resources Wales is expected to publish the results of the second consultation on the site in early September.