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Farming

Scottish and Welsh ministers discuss Brexit

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MINISTERS from devolved nations have aired concerns that Brexit represents a threat to the powers of the devolved administrations on environmental policy.

Roseanna Cunningham and her Welsh counterpart Lesley Griffiths met on Thursday, August 17.

Ms Cunningham, the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, said: “My message has been clear and consistent – the Scottish Government will steadfastly adhere to its environmental commitments, despite the growing threat of a hard Brexit.  That is why we are joining our Welsh counterparts to urge the UK Government to ditch this ill-conceived power grab.

“Imposing a UK-wide framework for the environment risks undermining the significant progress Scotland has made, which has seen us win international recognition for our work on climate change and the circular economy.

“We are not opposed in principle to UK-wide frameworks in certain areas but this must be through agreement – not imposition.

“Protecting devolution will allow us to drive forward our ambitious work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, enhance environmental standards and create a cleaner, greener Scotland for everyone.”

On Thursday, Welsh Rural Affairs Secretary Ms Griffiths said she shared Ms Cunningham’s concerns. Ahead of the meeting in Cardiff she said, “Devolution has enabled the Welsh Government to deliver ground-breaking legislation for the people of Wales, which delivers on international obligations and has been recognised as cutting-edge by a number of international institutions. The approach presented by the UK Government in the Withdrawal Bill could significantly undermine this progress.

“Our approach has not been about trading off agriculture and the environment, it’s about both. You can’t have one without the other. The Bill as it stands has the potential to seriously impact on this approach by locking us into an outdated framework while also removing our ability to bring forward reforms.”

Speaking after meeting with his SNP counterpart, Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs Simon Thomas, Mid and West AM added: “We’ve had 20 years decision making on agriculture from Wales and the people of Wales resoundingly endorsed that in the 2011 referendum on the powers of the Assembly. We cannot now allow unrepresentative Tories like Michael Gove shape the future of Welsh farming.

“Plaid Cymru will not allow the European Union Withdrawal Bill to tighten London’s grip on Wales.”

However, Welsh Conservatives have suggested that devolved administrations ought to trust the Westminster Government to do the best for them.

Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Europe, Mark Isherwood said: “The UK Government’s Brexit strategy is guided by a simple principle, to secure the deal that delivers the greatest economic advantage to the UK.

“This is a conversation that will be ongoing throughout the summer, and I would hope that a positive and constructive response from the Welsh Government will be forthcoming, alongside movement from the UK Government on common agreed UK-wide frameworks that respect the devolution settlement and provide a foundation for a future free trade agreement with the EU.”

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Farming

Conservation groups don’t like ‘unpalatable truth’

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Post-badger: A hedgehog experiences nature

THE FARMERS’ Union of Wales has warned that conservation bodies have their heads in the sand over the devastating impact badgers have had on hedgehog numbers, and are doing conservation a great disservice by scapegoating farmers.

The State of British Hedgehogs 2018 report released on February 7 by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species estimates that hedgehog numbers have halved since the beginning of the century, and places the lion’s share of the blame on intensive farming.

However, world leading hedgehog expert Dr Pat Morris, author of The New Hedgehog Book, wrote in his 2006 book “The implications [of high badger population densities] for hedgehog survival are serious…ignoring the issue or pretending that badgers exist only by harmless drinking of rainwater doesn’t help at all.”

A survey of badger numbers between November 2011 and March 2013 found that badger numbers in England and Wales have increased by between 70% and 105% in the past 25 years.

“Dr Morris is named in the State of British Hedgehogs 2018 report as the instigator of the first survey of hedgehogs based on animals killed on roads, but no mention is made of his concerns regarding high badger numbers having such a devastating impact on hedgehogs.

The issue is dismissed and swept under the carpet, despite overwhelming scientific evidence of the impact of badger predation, while farmers are effectively singled out as being to blame,” said FUW President Glyn Roberts.

A 2014 peer reviewed study of hedgehog numbers in ten 100km2 areas where badgers were culled in England found that “…counts of hedgehogs more than doubled over a 5-year period from the start of badger culling, whereas hedgehog counts did not change where there was no badger culling.”

Mr Roberts said: “Of course there are areas where intensive farming has had a detrimental impact on hedgehog numbers, but it is simply wrong to paint the whole of the UK as being like that – the fall in hedgehog numbers has in fact coincided with farmers planting more hedges.”

Mr Roberts added that this view was backed up by the RSPB, who said that losses of managed hedges appear to have halted in the mid-1990s, while the net length of hedges in the UK was stable or increasing.

The British Hedgehog Preservation Society and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species report said it was planning to engage with the farming community to ‘stem the alarming decline of our country hedgehogs’.

The likelihood is that there is a range of events causing impacts on the hedgehog population. Certain types of pesticides affect the hedgehog’s food chain, while larger and more open fields with less substantial hedgerows might also contribute to hedgehog predation and decline. The increased use of road vehicles is a certain factor, as is urban and suburban spread. Unusually, domestic pets are not a major hazard for hedgehog populations.

In rural Wales, however, the dramatic explosion in badger populations cannot be ignored as a significant factor in driving the decline of hedgehog numbers.

In the early-2000s, an investigation was carried out by the Small Mammal Specialist Group into patterns in hedgehog and badger populations across hundreds of square kilometres of rural southwest England and the midlands. One important finding was that hedgehogs appeared to be absent from large swathes of pastoral grasslands where they are thought to have once been commonplace. The group surveyed hedgehogs in a number of areas which were geographically and ecologically similar, but with different levels of badger culling.

Hedgehog numbers in suburban areas doubled during the five years of badger culling, and remained static in areas without culling. This demonstrated for the first time that badger predation is a strong limiting factor for hedgehog populations in these particular habitats.

Until the mid to late 20th century, heavy persecution of badgers kept them at low numbers. The Badgers Act of 1973 introduced protections, enhanced by the 1992 Protection of Badgers Act. Consequently surveys published in January 2014 revealed that in the 25 years since the first survey in 1985-88, the number of badger social groups in England has doubled to around 71,600.

In pasture-dominated and mixed agricultural landscapes, and in some suburban habitats, badgers thrive with have plentiful denning opportunities and abundant food resources. The largest increases in the density of badger social groups have occurred in the landscapes that dominate southern, western and eastern England. These are also the areas where hedgehog declines are likely to be most severe.

While nobody is suggesting that badgers be culled to improve biodiversity and give hedgehogs a chance of re-establishing themselves, the refusal to acknowledge evidence which they find inconvenient suggests that the weight that can be given to the Hedgehog Survey is questionable.

Glyn Roberts suggested that those ignoring the evidence were simply unprepared to face the truth about natural predation: “By sweeping under the carpet the unpalatable truth that badgers eat hedgehogs, and that the doubling in badger numbers has had a catastrophic impact on hedgehog numbers, and scapegoating farmers by highlighting outdated ideas about hedge removal, conservation bodies are doing a huge disservice to hedgehogs and conservation.

“In fact, they are doing exactly what Dr Pat Morris warned of in his Hedgehog Book – burying their heads in the sand by pretending increased badger numbers are not a major threat to hedgehog survival.”

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Farming

Charities benefit from breakfast fundraising

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'An incredible job': Glyn Roberts hails FUW members' generosity

THE EQUIVALENT of a year’s farm income (£13,000) has been raised by the Farmers’ Union of Wales, for its charitable causes – Alzheimer’s Society Cymru and The Farming Community Network.

Speaking about the success of the FUW’s farmhouse breakfast week at the end of January, Union President Glyn Roberts said: “Our staff, members and wonderful volunteers have done an incredible job in raising what is the equivalent of a year’s farm income for many farms in Wales for our chosen charities.

“Farming communities are close-knit communities and this shows what can be achieved when we all come together, with a common goal. Through these events, where we all sat around the kitchen table to talk and share our thoughts about #FarmingMatters, we’ve strengthened ongoing and permanent relationships and established new ones.

“The money we have raised in our rural communities will go towards helping others in our communities – we must never forget that our communities are the engine room of people powered change and also that this strength of community has the power to hold governments to account.”

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Farming

FMD plans tested

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Exercise Blackthorn: Testing FMD preparedness

GOVERNMENT departments around the UK are set to carry out simulation exercises to test contingency plans for dealing with any future outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

Exercise Blackthorn involved the Animal and Plant Health Agency, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), Scottish Government, Welsh Government and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland are set to test their current state of readiness over the next few months.

The EU Directive 2003/85/EC requires Member States to exercise their contingency plans either:

  • ​twice within a five year period; or
  • ​during “the five year period after the outbreak of a major epizootic disease has been effectively controlled and eradicated.”

The first simulation exercise took place on Thursday, February 8, with a further table-top exercise on March 8 followed by a real-time exercise on April 25 and 26 April.

Exercise Blackthorn will end on June 7 with a final table-top exercise. UK chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens said regular testing of contingency plans was an important part of making sure the authorities can respond to outbreaks.

“Exercises like this provide an opportunity for teams across government and industry to engage and to learn lessons in a controlled and safe environment,” he said.

“The risk of foot-and-mouth disease arriving in the UK is low but ever present. Government monitors disease outbreaks and incidence around the world assessing risk for the UK and taking action to mitigate risk where possible.”

After being free of FMD since 1968, Great Britain suffered a return of the disease in 2001. The entire outbreak lasted for 221 days and had a devastating impact on the farming industry, rural community and the wider economy across the UK. The UK was officially declared disease free on 22 January 2002.

An exercise evaluation report will be published in the autumn.

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