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Farming

Link subsidies to infrastructure call

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Recommendations will develop digital infrastructure: Russell George AM

THE WELSH G​OVERNMENT should consider ensuring future public subsidies to landowners such as farmers are conditional on them allowing mobile phone masts on their land, according to a National Assembly Committee.

A new report from the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee calls on the Welsh Government to consider innovative ways to connect the last ​4%​ of Wales without broadband access, and to consider reforming the planning regime to improve mobile phone coverage across the country.

Other recommendations from the report include:​

  • The Welsh Government should consider establishing a repayable grant or equity scheme to allow small operators to fill broadband gaps
  • The hardest to reach ​4%​ of communities and individuals living without broadband connectivity should be engaged in the process so that solutions are tailored to their needs
  • The Welsh Government should reform the planning regime to allow the installation of telecoms masts that cover a wider geographical range
  • OFCOM needs to use all its regulatory powers to meet its target of 100​% mobile coverage and, as a minimum, this should be a condition of future auctions of the right to transmit

Committee Chair Russell George AM said: “Connectivity is no longer a ​’nice-to-have​’ in our daily lives; for many people and businesses we spoke to during our inquiry, it’s now considered an essential service – like electricity.

“Wales’ landscape and population spread poses challenges in a world where market forces determine broadband and mobile phone coverage.

“While the Welsh Government’s Superfast Cymru broadband scheme, delivered with BT – has connected high numbers of people, there remain pockets it has not be able to reach, and this is echoed with mobile phone coverage.

“Our recommendations will help Wales to develop a digital infrastructure which is as fast and as reliable as other parts of the UK, and is fit for the future.”

“Mobile phone operators must step forward with a business proposal in order to ensure they meet their universal coverage obligation,” said Charles Trotman, the CLA’s Rural Business and Economy Advisor in response to the Committee’s report.

Responding to the Committee’s message that the siting of mobile phone masts should be condition for land subsidy, Mr Trotman said​:​ “Operators are responsible for developing their infrastructure strategy including where masts and other facilities are located. Their strategy will logically be driven by their commercial priorities. The Government has the option of driving development in less economic locations to meet its own commitments to supporting the rural community.”

“We welcome the conclusions of the report which refers to mobile coverage as an essential service,” Mr Trotman continued. “Delivering coverage to the rural community is essential for landowners who run a diversity of businesses, vital to the local economy, employing a high proportion of rural people in Wales.”

“A structure exists which enables mobile phone operators to work with landowners to meet their obligation to ensure Wales is connected. It is crucial that the telecoms industry take action.

“Government has a role to play in ensuring service-providers meet their obligations and to ensure that the Welsh community receives a fair deal in terms of quality of service and in sharing the value of providing the necessary infrastructure.”

He added: “Government also has a role to play in developing planning regulations to facilitate and accelerate the process to install the infrastructure.”

Meanwhile, farmers and landowners in Wales who are approached about accommodating new Emergency Services Network (ESN) masts on their land are being urged to take advice from their agent before making any commitment.

The Home Office is planning to set up and install a number of telecommunications sites in Wales to support the transition of the ESN from the current Airwave system to the new 4G system being provided by mobile operator EE.

“This involves the deployment of large steel lattice masts or monopole structures in an enclosed compound,” explained land agent Kathryn Williams at Davis Meade Property Consultants.

“The apparatus is likely to be between 15m and 20m in height, to be confirmed by site survey, and the enclosed ground based compound will be roughly 10m x 10m.

Telecoms infrastructure service provider Clarke Telecom is negotiating heads of terms on behalf of the Secretary of State for the Department of Communities and Local Government on behalf of the Crown (the Tenant).

“We are encouraging landowners that are approached about the installation of an ESN mast to take professional advice in relation to the Heads of Terms negotiations, particularly as agents fees are covered by the Secretary of State up to an agreed cap,” Kathryn explained.

“There are many clauses that are site specific, such as connecting the electricity supply and the installation of access tracks and roads, and these need to be carefully considered,” she added.

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Farming

Local farmer sentenced for animal welfare offences

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On 6 January 2021, at Aberystwyth Justice Centre the Magistrates passed sentence on Mr. Toby Holland of Maesgwyn, Blaenporth after he was found guilty in his absence of 10 charges relating to Animal Welfare and Animal By-Products offences.

Following the trial on 3 February 2020, a court warrant was issued for Mr. Toby Holland’ arrest in connection with these offences, and he was arrested by Police in December 2020.

The District Judge, in the trial held on 3 February 2020  heard that Animal Welfare Officers of the Public Protection team visited the farm on the 29 January 2019 and found a number of animal welfare issues. A sheep was found to be lying on its back unable to move and it was evident that it had been there for some time. Despite requesting that Mr. Holland seek veterinary assistance for the animal, a visit the following day had found that he failed to seek treatment for the animal and left it to die. He was found guilty for the unnecessary suffering of this sheep.

The Animal Welfare Officers found a barn containing 19 pigs. On seeing the officers the pigs were shrieking for food. The pigs were very thin and kept in an accumulation of muck with no dry lying area available. Within the pen were two dead pigs to which the live pigs had access. A post-mortem of one of the dead pigs found that the animal had likely died of starvation after finding no fat reserves remaining in the carcass.

The Veterinarian from the Animal and Plant Health Agency who attended the farm concluded that both the dead and live pigs had been suffering unnecessarily, and Mr. Holland was found guilty of these offences. He was also found guilty of failing to meet the needs of the animals, by failing to provide a dry lying area for the pigs.

The visit on 29 January 2019 also found a number of sheep carcasses strewn across the fields. It was clear that that they had been there for some time, and the live sheep had access to the same field. The District Judge found Mr. Holland guilty of failing to dispose of the carcasses in accordance with the requirements of a notice served under The Animal By-Products (Enforcement) (Wales) Regulations 2014.

A follow up visit on 30 May 2019 found the pigs were kept in a field where they had access to plastic bags, metal sheeting with sharp edges, and animal bones and skulls. These items could cause harm to pigs, and he was found guilty under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 of not providing a suitable environment for the pigs. Tthere were sheep carcasses in the fields, that Mr. Holland failed to collect and dispose in accordance with legal requirements. He was found guilty of a further offence under the Animal By-Products Regulations.

He was sentenced to 18 weeks imprisonment in total for the offences, and he was issued a disqualification order for 2 years from keeping any animals. The Local Authority were awarded £750 costs.

Following sentencing, Cllr Gareth Lloyd, Cabinet member for Public Protection Services, said: “The majority of farmers in Ceredigion have excellent farming practices, that ensures the highest standards of animal welfare. Unfortunately we must deal with a minority who for whatever reason fail to meet basic legal standards. I wish to thank the partner agencies who assisted the authority in the investigation, and the officers for their hard work in handling a difficult case.”

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Farming

First week of life is key

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IMPROVED new-born lamb and calf survival rates not only result in increased income, but also improve welfare, reduce disease, and reduce environmental footprint, according to the results of major GB-wide research.

The Neonatal Survival Project, funded by AHDB, Hybu Cig Cymru (HCC) and Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) in the sheep and beef sector, was established to study the key factors which could drive further improvements in farm efficiency and maximise animal welfare.

Key findings show that the majority of lamb and calf losses occur in the first seven days after birth, with over 98 per cent of lamb and 90 per cent of calf losses occurring in this period.

The findings – and the recommendations for new practices to be adopted on farms – will be discussed at two major webinars. The first will be held on 5 January for vets followed by an event on 21 January for farmers. To register visit ahdb.org.uk/events.

A spokesperson on behalf of the three levy boards said: “A survey and interviews were used to understand motivations and barriers for change. While many farmers were aware of good practice industry advice on new-born survival, it was not consistently followed. This was particularly true with respect to colostrum management and genetic selection.

“Farmers were confident in their abilities to improve survival rates, but tended to underestimate new-born losses on their farm relative to national averages. A cultural stigma around losses limits farmers in discussing their experiences with peers, and in some cases, even with their vet.

“The research also discovered that losses can be highly variable between years; the importance of accurate record keeping also became apparent. While most suckler farmers have access to reliable records, a significant number of sheep farmers do not consistently record their data.”

With global pressures to reduce antibiotic use, this study found that a significant proportion of beef and sheep farmers were able to manage infectious diseases without purchasing critically important antibiotics. Preventive antibiotic use was reduced or withdrawn successfully on some farms, while oral antibiotic treatment at birth made no difference to lamb outcomes in an experimental study within this project.

The study also demonstrated that good long-term protein status in late pregnancy results in reduced lamb losses between scanning and 24 hours old.

Twin born lambs with a low serum antibody (IgG) concentration were more likely to have poorer growth rates. As shown by previous studies, poor energy balance in late pregnancy results in a low lamb IgG. This indicates that lambs born to ewes in negative energy balance are at increased risk of absorbing insufficient colostrum antibodies from the ewe.

The project is now complete, although work is ongoing to enable the implementation of a sustainable youngstock survival plan across Great Britain.

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Farming

Consumers ‘sleepwalking’ away from meat

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A LACK of inspiration, rather than a conscious reaction to trends such as veganism, was at the heart of the pre-Covid-19 reduction in meat, fish and poultry consumption, new AHDB research has suggested.
Before the pandemic struck, some 7.8 million (35%) households in Great Britain had unwittingly purchased less meat, fish and poultry products, according to AHDB analysis of Kantar data [52 w/e 26 January]. This figure accounted for 99% of the 1.3% volume drop in retail sales.

However, the twenty per cent of households which had at least one ‘conscious meat reducer’ accounted for just 1% of the losses, with the majority citing other reasons for reducing consumption.

The unconscious reducers were said by the report to mostly be of retirement age and living with fewer people. They were found to be much less likely to experiment with cooking or refer to themselves as a ‘foodie’, preferring more traditional dishes. They were also found to be unsatisfied with shopping for meat, with just 29% of the unconscious reducer group saying they enjoyed browsing meat aisles and only 31% find them to be inspiring.

The report urged the meat industry to focus its efforts on winning this group back as they offered a better route to boosting meat consumption than conscious reducers.

“How unconscious reducers think and feel about meat isn’t any different to those people who are actually increasing their meat consumption – they’re not turning away on purpose so there is a chance to re-engage them with the category,” explained one of the report’s authors, AHDB senior retail insight manager Kim Malley.

“The biggest opportunity is at the point of purchase. The key thing the report highlights is those people are wanting a better in-store experience. There could be simple messaging in-store to remind people why they enjoy meat, give them a bit of inspiration and remind them it’s versatile and convenient.”

Malley added the meat-free category is “excelling” in innovation and convenience through ready-meal and marinated NPD – products which the report said the meat industry had invested less heavily in.

She also praised the packaging of meat alternatives, which tended to be “very colourful and brought recipes and flavours to life” for shoppers, and urged the meat industry to do its own innovation in these areas in a bid to win back “distracted” consumers.

According to the report, distractions included negative media coverage of the meat industry and the prominence of plant-based ranges in stores.

But in positive news for the sector, it found the coronavirus pandemic had seen sales volumes of meat, fish and poultry rise 8% year-on-year in the 52 weeks to 6 September. Unconscious reducers were discovered to have accounted for 35% of this uplift.

Malley said meat “benefited massively” from the rise in in-home occasions this year and consumers thinking more about their food choices. “It has highlighted that it’s quite easy to re-engage people,” she said.

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