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Farming

Refusal of corrections to moorland map slammed by farmers

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Farmers have branded as “illogical, unobjective and unfair” the Welsh Government’s refusal to allow appeals against the incorrect categorisation of their land as moorland. 

In January this year, natural and food minister Alun Davies announced that payments in the moorland area would fall to around 10% of the rates payable in areas outside the moorland area. That moorland area is defined as land over 400m (1,312 feet) mapped as moorland in 1992 for the purpose of The Moorland Scheme. Farmers’ Union of Wales member John Yeomans, who farms with his wife Sarah near Adfa, Montgomeryshire, said: “On areas where my neighbours and I farm, that 1992 map was completely inaccurate, but we had no idea the mapping was taking place and there was certainly no offer of an appeal against the incorrect categorisation of our land. “In any case, The Moorland Scheme was voluntary, and there was no suggestion that more than 20 years later the map would be used to cut our payments by 90%.” Mr Yeomans described the minister’s decision not to allow appeals on objective grounds as “illogical, unobjective and unfair”. “If you took a seven-year-old child from the middle of London into our fields and asked them whether they thought it was moorland, they would give you a categorical ‘No’. “These areas are extremely productive improved areas of land, and no one in their right mind would describe them as moorland. “By introducing the 400m line the Welsh Government has massively reduced the number of incorrectly mapped areas which would have led to appeals and legal challenges, so it makes no sense not to allow the remaining handful of areas like this to be eligible for appeals based upon objective criteria.” Mr Yeomans’ comments come after the minister responded to correspondence from FUW president Emyr Jones highlighting the need for an objective appeals system. Mr Jones’ letter stated: “During successive meetings …stakeholders emphasised the importance of having an objective definition of moorland and an appeals process to allow land to be removed from the map if it did not meet that definition – not least because the original moorland map is now almost a quarter of a century old, and was drawn up for a voluntary agri-environment scheme, not a compulsory area based payment scheme. “We had been under the clear impression that this argument had been accepted, and are therefore concerned at recent suggestions by Welsh Government staff that grounds for appeals may be based upon administrative procedures rather than an objective definition of moorland.” In his response, Mr Davies stated: “There will be two grounds for appeal. First of all, moorland for CAP payment purposes must have been mapped as having moorland vegetation when the 1992 moorland vegetation map was drawn. “Secondly, if land appears on that map then it must now be at 400 metres or higher altitude. Thus the grounds will be clear cut and objective.” Further correspondence from the Welsh Government has confirmed that even if an area was wrongly mapped as moorland in 1992 it is not eligible for appeal. Mr Yeomans said: “Our land was wrongly mapped as having moorland vegetation in 1992 and is over 400 metres high, so it seems from what the minister and officials have said that there are no grounds for appeal. “In fact, it seems that the only way of securing a successful appeal would be to prove that fields have sunk below the 400 metre land due to an earthquake or some other similar natural disaster. “This is ridiculous when you consider that since long before 1992 the vegetation on our land has comprised ryegrass and clover varieties, including many bred by Aberystwyth’s Plant Breeding Station. “The land is not mapped as Open Access land under the CRoW Act, and was part of the Welsh Government’s demonstration farm network specifically because it was well managed grassland and not moorland.” Mr Yeomans said he was discussing possible legal action with others affected by the minister’s decision.

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Farming

Local farmer sentenced for animal welfare offences

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ON JULY 10, Dylan Williams of Neuaddlwyd Uchaf, Neuaddlwyd, Ciliau Aeron appeared before magistrates at Aberystwyth Justice Centre and was sentenced for animal by-products and animal welfare offences.

Mr Williams, 47, had previously appeared at the Aberystwyth Magistrates Court where he entered pleas of guilty to the four offences brought before the court by Ceredigion County Council.

On 11 April 2018, 47 sheep carcasses in various states of decomposition were found on Mr Williams’ land, and these were accessible to live sheep and their young lambs. This formed the basis of the offence brought under The Animal By-Products Regulations which requires carcasses to be disposed of without undue delay, due to the risk to animal and public health.

The majority of the flock inspected on the day were seen with severe wool loss and irritated skin which are signs of sheep scab. Sheep scab is a debilitating condition which can lead to weight loss and thickened skin with scabs due to the intense, uncomfortable itching caused by the condition.

There were three separate offences under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, two of which were for causing unnecessary suffering to two ewes. One ewe was suffering from severe weakness due to scab infestation. Another ewe was found unconscious on the land with her intestines protruding from her flank, likely due to predation as she had also suffered from scab over a prolonged period.

Another offence related to Mr Williams’ failure to ensure the welfare needs of his flock were met by his failure to properly inspect the flock and to manage and treat the sheep scab effectively.

Magistrates sentenced Mr Williams to a community order with a requirement that he carried out 250 hours of unpaid work in the community, he was also ordered to pay the investigation and legal costs of the council which amounted to £1648.

Alun Williams, Ceredigion County Council’s Corporate Lead Officer with responsibility for Policy and Performance said, “The council is deeply saddened that yet another serious animal health offence has been committed within the county. It is to the credit of our staff that they have undertaken a successful prosecution of this case.

Our animal welfare officers and our legal team had no option but to carry the prosecution due to the seriousness of the offences committed. I would urge individual farmers who are facing difficulties in caring for their stock to seek advice from the County Council and the Farming Unions.”

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Aeron Valley farmers thinking creatively for their future

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A RESEARCH STUDY called Pweru’r Dyffryn delivered by Gweithgor Dyffryn Aeron cyf is looking into the feasibility of powering businesses and households in the Aeron Valley.

The study is looking into creating a community body to develop local renewable energy sources which would aim to create a source of income for powering the economy of mid Ceredigion. The study is also looking into creating a sustainable source of income to develop the local economy of the Aeron Valley.

The feasibility study is funded through Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014-2020. This is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.

The concept of Pweru’r Dyffryn (Powering the Valley) was developed by the Gweithgor Dyffryn Aeron cyf. Many members of the Gweithgor are young farmers in the area. They want to not only secure a way of life and affordable energy, but also invest in their future.

The farmers of Dyffryn Aeron first set up the community cooperative company Gweithgor Dyffryn Aeron cyf in response to the closure of dairy factories in the valley. The Gweithgor helped a local company to re-open the site of one factory as a centre of local employment.

Through this they found that energy costs were high in the area and could threaten the long term sustainability of businesses in the area.

Euros Lewis is a Director of Gweithgor Dyffryn Aeron cyf and is Pweru’r Dyffryn’s Project Manager. He said: “Responding creatively is the way forward and that’s what these young farmers have done.”

From here the concept of Pweru’r Dyffryn was developed, which began with local consultations across the whole of the Aeron Valley. It asked local communities what form of renewable energy they did and didn’t want to see developed in the area and how would they want revenue from any potential scheme to be spent. The purpose of the consultations were to develop a model that will meet the needs and potential of the local communities first and foremost.

The feasibility scheme received LEADER support through the Cynnal y Cardi Local Action Group, which is administered by Ceredigion County Council.

The next step for Gweithgor Dyffryn Aeron cyf is the publication of a comprehensive report of the local consultation and its findings for future potential developments. The consultation’s early findings include that large scale wind turbines would not be welcome, while there is support for further research as to the potential of waterways and solar power for the generation of local, sustainable energy.

The development of the scheme will be long-term with challenges along the way but Euros Lewis believes to change the lives of the local people and to develop the local economy ‘that the basic principle is to act for ourselves and this is what we are doing.’

Councillor Rhodri Evans is Ceredigion County Council’s Cabinet member with responsibility for Economy and Regeneration. He said: “It’s very encouraging to see rural society in Ceredigion ambitiously looking to the future. Cynnal y Cardi supports them closely and I’m sure they wil see success in the future.”

All ideas are welcome on a rolling basis and project officers are at hand to assist you. The closing dates in 2019 for submission of expressions of interest are 9 September and 11 November. All submissions are welcome in Welsh or English.

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Farming faces zero carbon challenge

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AN AMBITIOUS new target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 will lead to significant changes in farming practices over the coming decades, according to a leading agri-environment specialist.

Professor Iain Donnison, Head of the Institute of Biological, Environmental & Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University, was responding to the publication of ‘Net Zero: The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming’ published by the UK Government Committee on Climate Change.

Professor Donnison is an expert on agriculture and land use, which feature in the report in terms of targets for one-fifth of agricultural land to be used for forestry, bioenergy crops and peatland restoration.

According to Professor Donnison, such a reduction is very ambitious but achievable in Wales and the wider UK. “Land use can positively contribute towards achieving the net zero targets, but there are challenges in relation to emissions from agriculture especially associated with red meat and dairy,” said Professor Donnison.

“In IBERS we are already working on how to make livestock agriculture less carbon intensive and developing new diversification options for the farming of carbon. For example, net zero targets could provide significant diversification opportunities for both farmers and industries that make use of biomass and wood for the production of energy, materials including in construction and for wider environmental benefits.”

Professor Donnison added: “The report gives a clear message regarding the importance of the task and the role that the UK can play to compensate for past emissions and to help play a leadership role in creating a greener future.

“The report says it seeks to be based on current technologies that can be deployed and achievable targets. One-fifth of agricultural land is a very ambitious target but I believe that through the approaches proposed it is achievable (e.g. for bioenergy crops it fits in with published targets for the UK). This is based on the knowledge and technologies we have now regarding how to do this, and because right now in the UK we are developing a new agricultural policy that looks beyond the common agriculture policy (CAP). For example, the 25-year Environment plan published by Defra envisages payment for public goods which could provide a policy mechanism to help ensure that the appropriate approaches are implemented in the appropriate places.

“The scale of the change, however, should not be underestimated, although agriculture is a sector that has previously successfully responded to challenges such as for increased food production. The additional challenge will be to ensure that we deliver all the benefits we wish to see from land: food, carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) management and wider environmental benefits, whilst managing the challenge of the impacts of climate change.

“The link is made between healthy diets with less red meat consumption and future reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. This reflects that agriculture will likely go through significant change over the coming decades as a result of changes in consumer diets.

“Net Zero targets, however, could provide significant diversification opportunities for both farmers and industries that make use of biomass and wood for the production of energy, materials including in construction and for wider environmental benefits.”

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