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Rural Wales in ‘the 4G Wilderness’

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#4GforAll: CLA Wales highlights digital divide

NEW DATA gathered by the CLA has shown what rural communities have suspected for a long time; that the mobile industry is willing to abandon rural areas to the digital wilderness.

Director Rebecca Williams says: “Our information has revealed that too few planning applications have been made for mobile phone masts in our rural counties to bridge the digital divide between the urban and rural community.

“Latest research has shown that a county such as Powys – which has appallingly poor mobile connectivity at less than 3 per cent – has seen just 13 mast sites applied for in the past 12 months, yet urban counties such as Cardiff have seen as many as 62 applications. Even a rural county, such as Monmouthshire, close to the urban centres of Bristol, Newport and Cardiff, has seen just two mast applications.

“With 5G on the horizon in 2022, progress needs to be better – and Wales must not be left in the boondocks. The rural community must not be excluded. Farms and rural businesses lack the digital service they need to be competitive. We must remember that this is not about resident population numbers, since mobile communication should be available to everyone everywhere.”

In February, the CLA asked Ofcom to force reluctant mobile network operators to improve coverage in rural areas by imposing a legally binding coverage target on their operating licenses. It called for EE, O2, Vodafone and Three to be required to deliver 4G coverage to at least 95% of the UK geographic landmass on all networks by 2022.

Rebecca Williams continues: “Three years ago, we were told that coverage would be delivered in the countryside and yet rural communities are still waiting. In the same period the mobile industry has extracted concession after concession from UK Government Ministers. They have got the new legal powers they wanted, on the basis that they are a utility service.

“Now they must be forced to deliver the universal service that a utility operator provides. We expect government and the regulator to take a tough line on this, and if Ofcom won’t then Ministers must step in.”

The CLA has highlighted Ofcom’s failure to push mobile network operators to achieve universal coverage for consumers. It is calling on the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to review Ofcom’s statutory remit and confirm that the body should prioritise working towards universal, quality mobile coverage for consumers.

“The mobile operators have no market incentive to improve coverage in these rural areas. It is absolutely clear that the only way they will deliver the coverage the countryside needs is if they are forced to do so. However rather than pushing them to achieve universal coverage for consumers, Ofcom is setting soft targets for rural coverage. As a result rural consumers face inadequate service and lack of network choice for years to come.”

Further information can be found at www.cla.org.uk/4gForAll and Ofcom’s 700Mhz spectrum auction proposal.

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Farming

Welsh Government must balance farming priorities

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IN EARLY July, the Welsh Government published its proposals for the Sustainable Farming Scheme.

Robert Dangerfield, Communications Manager for the Country Land Owners and Business Association Cymru, responds.

We are pleased to see the ambition shown within the document to support sustainable and profitable food production alongside addressing the climate and biodiversity emergencies.

The proposals arise after three consultations over five years and reflect the work our members and the CLA team have done with Welsh Government.

We are happy to see considerable detail on what the scheme will pay for, the process for how farmers and landowners can apply, and how the transition from the current landscape of the Basic Payment Scheme and Glastir to the Sustainable Farming Scheme will work.

We do, however, have some specific concerns.

Firstly, the requirements for 10% woodland/forestry cover and a 10% requirement for habitat creation and maintenance may not be suitable for all holdings. The need to balance sustainable food production must be considered further.

Secondly, there are no specific payment rates for the scheme. Welsh Government have explained that this is because the current funding settlement with the UK Government only goes to 2024, so they cannot commit to specific rates. This is disappointing, and we will continue to lobby to ensure future funding matches the commitments within the proposals.

WHAT HAS BEEN PROPOSED?

Despite the concerns highlighted above, there is a fair amount of detail within the document. To summarise, the scheme includes a farm sustainability review that will include farm details (size, sector, livestock), a carbon assessment and a baseline habitat survey.

The review will be digital, where possible, to reduce cost and concentrate resources on scheme delivery.

It will provide entry to the scheme and identify the actions Welsh Government will pay for. These will consist of a mixture of universal activities that all applicants must undertake – for which they will receive a baseline payment via a five-year contract and optional and collaborative actions which will attract additional payments.

The universal actions include:

·        Record of key performance indicators;

·        10% of land for woodland/forestry and 10% for habitat creation/maintenance;

·        Undertake animal health and welfare plan;

·        Undertake a biosecurity plan;

·        Manage areas of cultural/heritage significance;

·        Undertake a five-yearly soil analysis.

The optional and collaborative actions are very wide-ranging and will be able to be tailored for the plethora of different farm types across Wales. One particular area of importance for our membership is access.

The proposal outline that any options relating to access are optional and include:

·        upgrading footpaths to multi-use paths;

·        enhancing existing paths to make them more accessible;

·        establishing joined-up and new access routes and trails;

·        establishing new access;

·        hosting educational and care farm visits.

We will continue to work with the various access fora and the Welsh Government to ensure that any new access is voluntary, incentivised, and permissive.

INITIAL VIEWS

The Royal Welsh Agricultural Show took place a week after the publication of the proposals, providing an ideal opportunity for discussion with lots of different organisations and our members.

Not surprisingly, the “10 and 10 requirements” dominated many meetings and conversations I had.

Some farmers were not concerned as they had already reached these percentages on their holding but were worried about land held under Farm Business Tenancies that often did not include the woodland.

In the short term, there are no quick answers; but the CLA Cymru team will be part of a Welsh Government-organised tenancy working group to discuss the impact of the proposals on landowners and tenants.

Other members outlined their worries that they needed all the productive land they had to go towards feeding their stock or growing their crops. This is a real concern.

For some, the solution will be to sustainably intensify other parts of their farm and become more efficient.

Where this is not possible, the role of exemptions for some farms must be considered by Welsh Government.

AGRICULTURE (WALES) BILL

The Agriculture (Wales) Bill will be published this Autumn.

It will be the legislative mechanism by which Welsh Government can administer the new scheme.

Ministers are confident it will receive Royal Assent by summer 2023, ready to begin testing, trialling, and introducing the new scheme.

We will be working with Members of the Senedd to ensure scrutiny of the Bill and to propose amendments if we see fit.

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Farming

Welsh Cobs return to the farmyard at Llanerchaeron

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Welsh Cobs at Llanerchaeron

HORSES have returned to the traditional farmyard at Llanerchaeron near Aberaeron, which is cared for by National Trust Cymru. 

Tomos and Seren, two eighteen-year-old Welsh Cobs, have been living together for over a decade and recently moved into the Welsh farmyard. 

Visitors will be able to meet the horses when they visit, during certain times of the day at the stable blocks.

Please check opening times before visiting www.nationaltrust.org.uk/llanerchaeron.

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Farming

Ceredigion farmers left high and dry by lack of UK-NZ trade deal protections

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PLAID CYMRU politicians have expressed significant concerns regarding the impact the new trade deal stuck between the UK and New Zealand will have on Ceredigion farmers. 

The free trade agreement between New Zealand and the UK Government was signed on 28 February 2022 and is set to open the doors to a significant import of meat produce which could potentially hit the farming sector in Wales harder than in any other part of the UK. 

NFU Cymru has recently raised concerns about the deal, stating that the potential negative cumulative impact of this cannot be overstated. 

The New Zealand trade deal follows another similar deal with Australia, and while it offers significant upsides for farmers on the other side of the world, it potentially creates significant marketplace changes for Welsh farming. 

Figures from the Farmers Union of Wales state the agreement could see the amount of beef that can be imported tariff-free from New Zealand rise immediately to 12,000 then gradually to 38,820 tonnes in ten years’ time. Further rises would occur in the subsequent five years, after which there would be no limit. A similar increase would also be seen in lamb, with the amount that could be imported tariff-free would increase by 35,000 tonnes per annum in years one to four, then by 50,000 tonnes per annum in years five to fifteen, after which there would be no limit. 

Plaid Cymru’s Agriculture Spokesperson, Mabon ap Gwynfor MS, has today (2 March, 2022) raised the issue as a matter of urgency with the Welsh Government in the Senedd. 

Mabon ap Gwynfor MS said: “While the spin will be about benefits, the truth is that this trade deal is a real cause for concern for Welsh farmers. 

“The agreement will provide a 15 year transitional period, and it states that they will only be able to ‘utilise new access to the UK sheep meat market once they have filled 90% of their existing World Trade Organization (WTO) quota’. 

“However, this leaves Welsh farmers at the whim of a market whereby they have no control nor input. Should something change in the sheep meat market then New Zealand meat would suddenly end up here or in the EU and undermine Welsh farmers. 

“By failing to ensure that there are tariffs on imports here the UK Government have left Welsh farmers completely open to the whims of a market which they have no say and no protection. 

Cefin Campbell, Plaid Cymru Member of the Senedd for Mid & West Wales added: “Let us be clear, this trade deal is a gross betrayal of Ceredigion farmers. The UK Government’s own analysis suggests that the number of people working in agriculture will be negatively impacted by this deal, whilst it also threatens to undermine the entire Welsh agriculture sector – which we know is far more susceptible to harm from a poor trade deal than other farmers in other parts of the UK.  

As we face a climate emergency, importing more food from the other side of the world that could be produced sustainably here in Wales, does not make any sense whatsoever. 

Clearly, efforts must now be taken at Westminster to ensure that the Welsh farming sector is safeguarded from the potential negative impact of this agreement.”  

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