(Title Image: Natural Resources Wales/Crown Copyright)
The Welsh Conservatives are due to hold a debate on the future of the recently troubled Natural Resources Wales (NRW) later this week.
Ahead of that, the Energy, Environment & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham) updated AMs on Welsh Government support for woodlands – something which they have a pretty dismal record in at present.
“Important part of our natural landscape”
The Minister described forestry as an important part of the natural landscape and a key social, economic and environmental asset. Taking into account the recommendations of the Environment Committee, the government’s strategy has been refreshed to provide clearer direction.
“The Welsh Government is committed to accelerating woodland creation and our refreshed strategy gives guidance on the kinds of trees and woodlands we need in Wales and clear direction to woodland managers. To complement this, we are preparing woodland creation guidelines for land managers, businesses and NRW in order to help them make better and quicker decisions on which trees to plant where.
“In order to progress the Welsh Government’s plans to increase the area of new woodlands in Wales – as well as the First Minister’s commitment to creating a new national forest for Wales – a further round of Glastir woodland creation will open on 1st April.”
– Energy Environment & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths
The Minister said £480,000 would be put towards co-operative planning for new forestry in local communities, alongside an additional £5million for timber investment and another £2million for improvements to existing forestry.
“Not a brilliant track record”
Shadow Rural Affairs Minister, Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central), said that while the Welsh Government’s track record was less than brilliant, the forestry industry in Wales still had a turnover of £520million a year and employed 10,000 people.
“As we know from the work that has been undertaken, instead of hitting the 5,000 hectares-per-year target, in the total run only 3,700 hectares have been planted in that time. In 2016, only 39 hectares of productive forest were planted here in Wales. Really, we’ve just got to get this right, and in particular you, as the Minister, now need to take the business by the scruff of the neck and work with the industry so that we can build on those numbers that I touched on….”
– Shadow Rural Affairs Minister, Andrew RT Davies AM
Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales) said there was no doubt that missed targets had impacted the government’s ability to deliver on flood prevention, biodiversity and climate change – but the new guidelines were welcome.
He asked if the Minister had confidence in NRW’s ability to deliver? Was it also still appropriate for NRW to manage commercial forestry in Wales?
The Minister didn’t want to repeat debates previously held in the chamber on the need for independent inquiries, while NRW has accepted all of the recommendations from the Grant Thornton review. She had full confidence in the new chair, chief executive and board.
Call for better protection
Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West) called for better protection of red squirrels, as current legislation means a felling licence can’t be rejected in order to preserve or enhance flora or fauna under the 1967 Forestry Act.
Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East) raised concerns about the felling of landmark trees – in this case, a redwood in Penllergaer. He called for enhanced protection as tree protection orders “give illusionary protection”. David Rees AM (Lab, Aberavon) raised the slow pace of replacement planting for trees felled in the Afan Valley due to disease – this was particularly damaging to the area’s tourism industry.
The Minister told AMs the new strategy acknowledges the importance of ancient woodlands and the careful management of “veteran” trees. She was willing to learn lessons from a review of forestry laws in Scotland (with regard to wildlife conservation) and was also seeing what additional funds could be provided for re-forestation efforts in Neath Port Talbot.