Deeds need to match words as Welsh Government forest creation track record criticised again

(Title Image: Natural Resources Wales, Crown Copyright)

Here’s a round-up of this afternoon’s questions to the Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham).

Water quality regulations on hold pending further advice

Shadow Environment Minister, Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central) chased up the Minister on proposed water quality regulations and their possible impact on farming.

“You did a regulatory impact assessment on this particular issue. Can you confirm today how many farms and how many jobs might be lost and what that regulatory impact assessment highlighted because surely that’s what it looked at if these regulations were implemented as understood by the industry?”
– Shadow Environment & Rural Affairs Minister, Andrew RT Davies AM

The Minister confirmed the regulations haven’t been introduced yet because she’s asked officials to get further advice on the possible impact on farming. She’s met with farming unions and is scheduled to meet them again – though couldn’t give any figures on how it would affect the industry.

She did note her disappointment that the onus is being placed on the government, not farmers, to reduce water pollution considering the “unacceptable” levels that exist at the moment.

Plaid’s spokesperson, Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales), also focused on the regulations.

“There were 30,000 sewage spillages in this country back in 2017 and I don’t hear the Government making as much fuss about that….But do you accept that spreading during closed periods and having set dates for spreading slurry and farming by calendar can be counter-productive? We hear people like Tony Juniper, the boss of Natural England, saying as much. So, is that something that you now accept and that you, of course, are moving away from that kind of approach?”
– Llyr Gruffydd AM

The Minister believes any flexibility in the farming calendar had to be “earned”. While she completely understood the possible difficulties facing farmers, she was also responsible for the environment, repeating that the number of agricultural pollution incidents is “unacceptable” and “embarrassing”.

More work, less talk on tree planting

David Rowlands AM (BXP, South Wales East) took the Minister to task on tree-planting, saying that despite the emphasis in the clean air plan and the declaration of a climate emergency, just 240 hectares of new trees were budgeted for during 2018-19 compared to a goal of 2,000 hectares. Scotland and Northern Ireland were planting tens of millions of new trees compared to Wales’ 43,000.

Mohammad Asghar AM (Con, South Wales East) quoted industry experts who said funding for tree planting was a third of what it needs to be, while Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East) called for annual targets to be set at local authority level and for trees to be planned for in the same manner as housing.

The Minister said there were no plans to introduce local authority targets and, ultimately, the government couldn’t do this by itself.

“We have planted over, I think it’s over 16 million trees in the last three years. A lot of that will have been restocking; we need to be looking at new areas….Welsh Government can’t do it on our own. We need others to help us to do this. We need others to bring funding forward. We need others to bring land forward. We put significant funding into our tree and woodland expressions of interest window in relation to Glastir. There is also funding available within the sustainable management scheme project.”
– Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths

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