The 19th December is the closing date for a Welsh Assembly consultation on plans that could help shape the future of our countryside for years to come. But, asks Coed Cadw hasn’t the Welsh Assembly Government missed a trick by failing to recognise that trees and woodland actually offer answers to many of the challenges that we face?
The consultation document ‘Sustaining the land’ looks at the future of agri-environmental schemes supported by the EU’s Axis 2 programme.
Clearly, when it comes to managing the Welsh countryside, things are changing fast. Quite rightly, the Welsh Assembly Government is under pressure:
• To find ways of reducing carbon dioxide emissions,
• To encourage ways of managing the land that reduce the risk of flooding
• To promote biodiversity, and
• To encouraging the local production of food.
The consultation document comes up with three options for reforming the way the Government supports farming in Wales, but none of the three fully recognises that more woodland and trees, particularly native trees, could actually help meet objectives relating to climate change, flooding, biodiversity and carbon. Indeed, in the case of options 2 and 3, to set up completely new agri-environmental schemes to take the place of the present Tir Gofal and Tir Cynnal, it’s not even clear how woodland would fit in to the scheme at all.
Creating new woodland actually removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and locks it up in the form of wood. Woodland creation can help provide ‘soft’ defences against flooding, turning the landscape into a sponge that can absorb heavy rainfall and then release it gradually. Ancient semi natural woodland is one of the most wildlife-rich habitats we have in the UK, and creating more native woodland would help make the whole landscape more welcoming the wildlife. And woodland pasture systems offer many benefits in terms of providing shelter for stock, and the source of firewood for the farmer!
So it’s surprising that the Welsh Assembly Government’s plans do not make more of the benefits of woods and trees, particularly as the One Wales document, the partnership agreement between Labour and Plaid Cymru, that serves as the foundation Assembly Government, pledges to “provide support for indigenous woodlands…helping to create a Welsh National Forest of native trees to act as a carbon sink.”
Is this a case where the people are one step ahead of bureaucrats? As it happens, a group of ten farming families in Montgomeryshire have got together, to demonstrate the benefits that new native woodland could offer. The Pontbren scheme covers 1000 hectares. Working together at a landscape scale, these farms have created new woodlands and shelterbelts, using dry woodchip rather than imported straw as animal bedding. Isn’t this the sort of innovative working that the Welsh Assembly Government should be promoting? Wouldn’t it make sense for most Welsh farms to have a firewood copse, that could supply a renewable source of firewood for the farmhouse and perhaps a few houses nearby?
The Welsh Assembly Government consulted on its woodland strategy in July this year. The document said: “We wish to see a stronger link between woodland and other land uses, especially agriculture, so helping to deliver more benefits through integrated land management” and also: “We intend to increase net woodland cover in Wales”.
Around 80 per cent of Wales is farmland, so unless this aspiration in incorporated into the Assembly’s agricultural policy, it’s unlikely to see the light of day.
There’s certainly a lot of good sense in the Welsh Assembly Government’s consultation document. Elin Jones, the Rural Affairs Minister, is clearly keen to make sure that farming can face up to the real challenges of the future.
But Coed Cadw believes that this consultation document, and the important policy that follows, would be a whole lot more relevant and effective, if it recognised just what woodland and trees offers for the future of our countryside.
The consultation document can be found here. We would encourage others to respond to this consultation, so that trees and woodlands can be properly considered.
You can see our full response here.