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Brexit – a new dawn for Welsh agriculture?

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Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 09.44.56THE WEATHER was perfect for the Royal Welsh Show – golden Mid Wales sunshine tempered with a welcome mist of drizzle on the final day, to dampen the Llanelwedd dust. 

Strong entries in the livestock classes, the wheat futures market firming up, and, due to the combination of a lower sterling rate and the recent end of Ramadan, fat lamb prices stronger than they have been in recent years. No wonder, then, that Brexiteer AMs such as Welsh Conservative Leader, Andrew RT Davies, and UKIP supremo Neil Hamilton were bestriding the Showground, talking of unparalleled opportunities, with Welsh farmers unshackled from the unloved clutches of Brussels bureaucracy. I dare say that a few pints of Fosters were downed at the Young People’s Village, to celebrate the opportunities of reconnecting with our Commonwealth cousins.

However, such optimism, especially amongst those who campaigned with zeal for Brexit, did not reflect the wider mood that I encountered, talking with Farming Unions and ordinary farmers and growers from all parts of Wales. Rather, I found a genuine apprehension out there about what the Brexit vote means for the future of farming, so central to the prospects for our wider rural economy. Surprisingly, it was the contribution of two, until recently obscure, MPs that crystallised their concerns.

In the last Welsh Questions before the House of Commons Recess, Ian Lucas, Labour MP for Wrexham, hailed the Brexit vote as an opportunity to reassess the public support for agriculture, especially at a time of fiscal stringency. Also, with a hint of dog whistle politics, Mr Lucas referred to ‘prosperous farmers’ who could surely cope without public subvention. While Mr Lucas was doubtless appealing to his own immediate core voters in thus caricaturing farmers, the wider farming community cannot afford to ignore his contribution. Indeed, given the Brexit vote, which it seems that many Welsh farmers supported despite the warnings of the Welsh Farming Unions and agricultural economists, it is inevitable that the debate on farm support, and the payment structure for environmental goods and services provided by farmers, will intensify.

Perhaps of greater significance to farmers in Wales were the recent comments of the Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP, a veritable lioness of Brexit, whose rise to DEFRA Secretary after her abortive bid for the Conservative leadership has been meteoric. During the Referendum campaign, Mrs Leadsom commented: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies. That would make a lot more sense for the UK and it’s perfectly possible but only if we leave the EU and sort it out for ourselves.” Alongside her call for the repeal of the Hunting Act and her crusading support for fracking, these remarks certainly single out Mrs Leadsom as a ‘red meat eater’ – but have served to send shivers down the spines of farmers and environmentalists alike. As early as 2007, Leadsom argued that ‘subsidies must be abolished’ in an article on how to rejuvenate British farming, so at least in this respect, there is some depth to her views, if not her analysis.

In the economic conditions that now confront us as a country contemplating the reality of Brexit, pressure on the public purse will be more acute than ever before. Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader, Mark Williams MP, and I launched the ‘Not a Penny Less’ campaign on farm support at the Royal Welsh – and are already tapping into a rich vein of support. This was boosted by a visit from Federal Liberal Democrat Leader, Tim Farron MP, on the final day of the Show. It is now more important than ever for all farmers to engage in the public debate, so that there is a better understanding of the vital contribution that they make as custodians of the land, both in terms of maintaining biodiversity, but also to the whole tourist sector, such a critical part of the wider rural economy.

However, more important than anything for Welsh farming is securing long -term access to the European Single Market for our quality farm exports – and making that an essential element in the permanent post -Referendum settlement. A Seminar on Welsh Upland Farming hosted at the Show by Aberystwyth University reminded us of the consequences of the withdrawal of public subsidy for farming in New Zealand. It is not the butterflies that have suffered, but rather animal welfare standards, as well as formerly thriving villages and market towns turned to ghost towns. Whilst the positives of a vibrant New Zealand agricultural sector are often cited, the consequences of such huge scale ranch farming would destroy our pattern of community life in Wales, with the Welsh speaking upland areas suffering worst of all.

The farmers with whom I spoke at Llanelwedd agree with the stance of both FUW and NFU Cymru. We urgently need fresh leadership from Welsh Government ahead of any triggering of Article 50 to leave the European Union. Central to that is the reassertion of the vital role for tariff free access to the European Single Market. The industry needs also to engage with the environmental sector – and the wider public – to stress the critical importance of food security, as well as the public benefits in terms of biodiversity and flood risk management that flow from maintaining human scale family farms. Only proportionate farm support systems from the public purse will safeguard this for the future.

Another reason for genuine leadership on these issues from Welsh Government, from the First Minister down, is the danger of agricultural policy being repatriated from Brussels only for vital powers to be retained at Westminster. This concern has been raised by voices as diverse as Penri James of Bangor University, constitutional expert Sir Paul Silk and well known Radnorshire farmer and commentator, David Hardwick. Despite disquiet about Welsh Government agricultural policy over recent years, in terms of RDP/ modulation and the challenges of bovine TB eradication, it would be a strange definition of progress for EU Agricultural Commissioner Phil Hogan to be replaced by Mrs Leadsom. But then, the best outcome for the future of Welsh Agriculture looks rather like Norwegian style EFTA membership, with tariff free trade, free movement of people and a full contribution to the EU budget, just no influence on the rules. Those in Wales who have delivered Brexit for our rural communities really must be careful what they wish for.

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New healthy heart project to help patients in North Ceredigion

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PATIENTS in North Ceredigion will now benefit from a new project which will offer psychological support to those at risk of heart problems.

Hywel Dda University Health Board has funded this project which offers advice and support for patients with cardiovascular risk factors.

This new Clinical Health Psychology pathway will run the in North Ceredigion Cluster which covers seven surgeries. The scheme aims to prevent the escalation of cardiovascular disease and cardiac events including heart attack and stroke.

Support will be provided in a primary care setting for patients with two or more of the following modifiable risk factors:

Elevated blood pressure

Elevated Cholesterol

Elevated HbA1c

Clinically overweight or obese

Chronic stress

The pathway offers emotional support to help make changes to patients’ lifestyles, including managing stress or improving their health and fitness, ultimately helping to reduce cardiovascular risks.

Rachel Herrick, Clinical Lead Psychologist for the pathway, said: “Anxiety, depression and stress are risk factors for the onset, development and prognosis of cardiac problems. Lifestyle factors including diet, sleep, and activity levels also play a major role in the onset of cardiovascular diseases.

“By providing psychological techniques and therapy, we can prevent and treat cardiovascular diseases. Learning to manage stress, anxiety and depression and following a healthy lifestyle will significantly reduce risk, as well as improve overall quality of life and general health outcomes for our patients in North Ceredigion.”

If you would like to self-refer to this pathway, please telephone and leave a message on 01267 246917 or email clinicalhealth.psychology.hdd@wales.nhs.uk

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Construction work due to begin on transforming Lampeter Leisure Centre next month

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AS PART of Ceredigion County Council’s wider Through-age and Wellbeing Strategy, Lampeter Leisure Centre will transform into a Wellbeing Centre. 

The Wellbeing Centre will provide a wide range of services that consider and improve the physical, mental and social aspects of an individual’s wellbeing. These Through-age services will include skills and employment advice, hardship and housing support, services for young people, support for carers and early support for Mental Health.

The Wellbeing Centre will also provide increased access to information, advice and assistance for residents on all council services. Providing opportunities for people to be physically active will remain a core component of the Wellbeing Centre. The proposed redevelopment will see a new fitness suite created on the ground floor, a spin studio and a multi-purpose room that can accommodate exercise classes on the first floor. 

To aid the transformation, Lampeter Leisure Centre will have to close to ensure that the essential building work can begin. The work is due to begin mid-July 2022.

An agreement has been put in place with the University of Wales Trinity St David’s to use their leisure facilities on their Lampeter campus while the work is being undertaken, meaning that all current users of the Leisure Centre will be accommodated.

The Council and the University are committed to continuing to work together even after the construction of the Wellbeing Centre, to ensure that there is provision within Lampeter for all sports and activities currently being played at the Leisure Centre to continue and develop.

Catrin M.S. Davies, Ceredigion County Council’s Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure and Customer Services, said: “This significant capital investment in Lampeter Leisure Centre will ensure the future of the Centre for years and will meet the growing needs of children, young people, individuals and families in Lampeter and the surrounding area.” 

Use of the facilities at the Lampeter Campus will start week commencing Monday 11 July 2022 and will continue until the building work is complete which will be early in 2023.

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New grants scheme launched to break barriers to accessing nature

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A £2MILLION funding pot designed to bolster community resilience by harnessing the power of nature is set to be launched by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) this summer.  

The launch of the Resilient Communities Grant Programme stems from calls for a green recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic – a recovery which places a stronger focus on action for nature and a recovery that spreads to every part of society.

 The Welsh Government’s declaration of a Climate and Nature Emergency has also galvanised communities, businesses and public bodies in Wales to work together to mitigate against and adapt to the impacts of climate change, now and in the future.

The Resilient Communities Grant will provide communities with the opportunities to restore and enhance nature in their local areas, particularly in Wales’ most disadvantaged communities, and those with little access to nature. Supporting the provision of more green space will also support the changes needed to make to society to respond to the challenges of the climate emergency and reverse the decline in biodiversity.

 With applications set to open in July, NRW is urging projects from across Wales to develop and submit proposals that have at their heart:

  • Opportunities to promote diversity and inclusion, particularly amongst communities that have less access to quality green spaces.
  • Creative ways to reconnect people with nature and their local environment to improve physical and mental health, confidence, self-esteem and encourage ‘green behaviours’.
  • Promoting health and wellbeing through therapy and nature, particularly interventions that tackle health inequalities.
  • Nature-based solutions that help communities feel safer and secure, for example improving greenspaces blighted by criminal activity.
  • Creating more opportunities to access nature, especially where this need is reflected in future development planning.
  • Opportunities to improving community awareness and understanding of climate risks, empowering communities to be involved in decision-making and taking action to tackle climate change impacts.
  • Ensuring communities feel a sense of connection and empowerment with their natural environment and have an active role over how it is managed and improved.
  • Creating opportunities for education and involvement in citizen science so communities have a better connection and greater understanding of their local environment and the benefits that a healthy environment can bring.

Gareth O’Shea, Director of Operations for NRW, said: “We have seen people connecting with nature during the Covid-19 pandemic and a greater appreciation of the way in which it underpins our health, our economy and our wider wellbeing.

“There has also been increasing recognition that the climate and nature emergencies are upon us, and its impacts are being felt amongst the parts of society that have contributed least to its acceleration. More needs to be done to mitigate and adapt now.

“Our Resilient Communities Grant Programme seeks to support that effort – providing communities with the opportunities to meet these challenges in a number of ways.

“From promoting the benefits of greater access to nature, tackling loneliness and exclusion and empowering people to influence the decisions made in their local areas, we’re encouraging people to submit proposals that can make a significant difference to the health, wellbeing and resilience of current and future generations.”

The Resilient Communities Grant Programme can provide 100% funding and applications are welcomed for amounts from £10,000 to £250,000. Applications can be made across different places and address multiple themes. Applicants who collaborate with other partners to submit joint applications are also warmly welcomed.

For further information on NRW’s Resilient Communities Grant Programme and the upcoming webinar, please visit: Natural Resources Wales / Current grant funding opportunities or contact grants.enquiries@cyfoethnaturiolcymru.gov.uk

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