A government tree planting scheme on prime farmland in Carmarthenshire has been scaled back after a backlash by rural campaigners.
Natural Resources Wales (NRW) bought Brownhill, near Llangadog, on behalf of the Welsh government to plant 94ha of woodland as a memorial to those who died during the Covid pandemic.
What followed was months of campaigning by organisations including the Countryside Alliance and the Farmers’ Union of Wales, including a petition urging the government and NRW to stop buying productive farmland for tree planting.
That campaign forced a rethink and 21ha will now be kept for grazing.
Welsh government climate change minister Julie James said: “Following feedback from local communities, NRW has devised a plan which combines tree planting with food production and can be an exemplar of what we would like to see on farms across Wales if we are to address the climate change emergency.”
There are now calls for the introduction of impact assessments ahead of future tree planting schemes, to consider their effect on food security and the local community.
Rachel Evans, Countryside Alliance director for Wales, said this must be a priority.
“Local people must be part of the process and not feel as though decisions are being imposed on them and their local area without consideration of their views.
“Our proposal to conduct rural community impact assessments will go a long way in alleviating communal anxiety in the future, and we sincerely hope the Welsh government will commit to carrying them out as a matter of standard procedure.”
Woodland planting applications
In 2021, there was a six-fold increase in applications to plant woodland in Wales compared to previous years, with around 75% of applications made by individuals or bodies based outside Wales.
FUW deputy president Ian Rickman, who farms near Brownhill, said many of the applications related to planting around east Carmarthenshire and south-west Powys.
Although he welcomed the decision to scale back planting at Brownhill, he said that to lose more land under a plan instigated by the government “still represents a blow”.
He said tree planting should be done with a focus on keeping land in local ownership and alongside food production and agriculture.
“The Welsh government should not be encouraging, or themselves implementing, blanket afforestation policies,” Mr Rickman added.
It is understood that the Welsh government has spent £6m on buying farmland.