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Fine by pen-pushers but not by farmers

BASC is supporting Welsh farmers in challenging agri-environmental proposals — but there are fears their concerns could fall on deaf ears.

One of my jobs at BASC is to sort the wheat from the chaff when sifting through the myriad consultations crossing my desk every day. The Welsh government and its agencies are particularly prolific in producing draft strategies and policies, many of which seem a bit off the mark. A case in point is the development of a new post-Brexit agri-environmental scheme for Wales to replace existing schemes that were underpinned by EU funding and rules. 

This has been rumbling on for years with various consultations containing scant detail, each of which BASC has responded to, flying the flag for the social, economic and environmental benefits of shooting in Wales. Then, just before Christmas, a consultation was launched on a Sustainable Farming Scheme, which put some flesh on the bones. 

Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, the Welsh government has not listened to years of advice from the farming sector, because its proposals are so bad that they have sparked a grassroots wave of protests across Wales (see p7). A key area of concern is a proposed compulsory 10% woodland requirement on every farm. That might sound reasonable to the pen-pushers of Cardiff but in reality it is unworkable. 

As the GWCT put it, in a recent blog post, Welsh farmers “can’t be green if they are in the red”, explaining the 10% tree cover target will be simply unachievable and farmers will need to either opt of funding support or be forced out of business, both of which lead to dire consequences for Welsh wildlife and the environment. 

But that is not the only issue with the proposals, which could take as much as 25% of farmland out of food production. That is why across Wales this year you will see signs saying “No farmers, no food”. BASC Wales has joined some of the protests and we have been working closely with Welsh farming organisations on the policy front. 

Mink and squirrel 

BASC’s response to the consultation reviewed the proposals from a shooting perspective. The Senedd has been chipping away at shooting for years and this came to a head last year with proposals to ban gamebird releasing. It’s time to push back in the other direction and BASC has called for the proposed Sustainable Farming Scheme to include payments for the control of deer, grey squirrel, mink, carrion crow and fox. 

To underline this, we have estimated the current level of deer and squirrel control in Wales saves £16.5 million and £2.8 million (2023 prices) of lost woodland carbon, not to mention the other more obvious benefits. The control of mink is essential if the government wishes to support the recovery of the native water vole. Targeted corvid and fox control on farms with breeding curlew will minimise losses of eggs and chicks. 

On a more technical matter, we want a definition of livestock in the scheme that excludes animals kept for the provision or improvement of shooting. This is so restrictions aimed at livestock are not applied to the likes of supplementary feeding of gamebirds in woodlands. Perhaps some or all of this will fall on deaf ears. 

If the needs of the farming and shooting community are ignored, we may see a rural rising causing disruption on a scale not seen since the Rebecca Riots in Wales almost 200 years ago. 

BASC Wales director Steve Griffiths said: “In Wales shooting and farming are intrinsically linked and when we issued a call to arms to fight proposals to ban Welsh gamebird releasing, farmers supported our Act Now campaign. Now farming is under threat from an administration that does not understand the needs of rural Wales and we stand with farmers in demanding a rethink on the Welsh government proposals.”