Yet More Greed and Wanton Habitat Destruction in Dyffryn Nantlle, Gwynedd, North Wales

- A Destructive Practice of Ignorance For Ever More Land, Sheep, and Payments...


A Need For Change... Several decades ago, as the last of the quarries ceased their operations and the pits were closed, the floodplain and the fields upon the hills were alive with meadowflowers and, in the spring, swallows and house martins, doubtless swifts, too; now, the fields are intensively managed, overgrazed strips of green dessert and nothing moves over them save for sheep or cattle, whilst little overflies them save for corvids, gulls, and the occasional trio of buzzards.

We have a butterfly conservation area above where I live, only the landowner sprays pesticide in an adjacent area early on every year (invariably decimating the early bees and other pollinators), hedgehogs are non-existent, toads are non-existent, there are no indications of badger setts or activity on my side of the valley despite locations in the area being perfect for them (no surprise there whatsoever) and, as detailed elsewhere in this report, some of our local farmers happily eradicate our wetland species and skylarks with relative impunity, a situation that has remained unchallenged and unchecked for many years now.

The farmers, for the main part, are heedless of this and see no reason to change their approach to land management: under the current Common Agricultural Policy the value of their livestock is standardized and there are no concerns over receiving a poor price on anything if the meat quality is low, if the animal is not fully healthy, or if the dairy produce is less than ideal, just as long as the various tests and checks can be passed; with a similar situation where the land is concerned: no matter what the farmer does to that land, they will still receive payments from the EU according to their paperwork submissions and regardless of whether their Environmental Focus Areas are on paper only or their greening more a case of browning with agri-chemicals.

Consequently there is only the most minimal effort to improve anything, with farmers and landowners paying only lip-service to cross-compliance and greening; in the more extreme cases completely and totally disregarding both, a situation which has been allowed to develop and worsen over many years now. This, in turn, transfers to the younger generations of farmers and so the situation is perpetuated year-on-year with ever accumulating damage and consequences to the environment and ecology of the local area.

Further exacerbating this situation is the piecemeal selling-off, at auction or at very cheap prices, of unspoilt land belonging to retired farmers and landowners on their death to other farmers and landowners, especially those who already have large holdings (sometimes paid for, to a good extent, through overly-padded CAP payments), and who typically waste no time at all in destroying those areas, too, under the pretext of "improving" them, to use the agricultural terminology for such.

Taken together, Rural Payment Wales, Natural Resources Wales, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the government's Environmental Impact Assessment departments are supposed to monitor and oversee issues concerning cross-compliance, greening, and EFAs. The problem? They simply do not have the resources to manage their responsibilities at all well or in any way effectively and are largely blind to what is happening without the internvention of campaigners and individual members of the public who, in turn, are hampered in what they can do because of the limited amount of information that is public domain. Indeed, it can truthfully be said that much of what information is available on a given farmer, and their holdings, is only available because of European, not British, legislation1.

Another problem is the British exit from the European Union: whether this ever happens, or whether it only ever happens on paper (which is entirely probable), many farmers in Cymru (especially those with larger holdings) will potentially find themselves with significantly reduced payments because Cymru has yet to reach a state of devolvement sufficient enough to manage its own farming subsidies without support from the UK government. This will invariably mean that anything environmental will suffer, and suffer badly, as farmers re-integrate set-aside areas into their managed holdings and further minimize any expenditure on protecting or preserving the environment and local ecology.



Even allowing for the British exit never being resolved, though, Cymru needs to act on this and act now: there are clearly three issues which need to be resolved, these being:

There is also the issue of protected species. Currently, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 fails badly to protect many of our most endangered species, there being a variety of reasons for this, one major reason being DEFRA's licensing of needless badger culls and the destruction of various other species (including owls and raptors in general - something that the RSPB makes a point of avoiding the subject of)

...and another being the UK government's refusal to acknowledge that wildlife is not stationary: it is pointless assigning location tags like SSSI or Ramsar and then effectively saying "if the skylarks nest outside of that area you are free to destroy their habitat because it is not a protected area"; yet that is exactly the situation that currently exists in both Cymru and the UK as a whole4.

If we are at all serious about protecting our wildlife, be it in Cymru or the UK as a whole, our respective governments (most especially NRW and Cymru's EIA department) must acknowledge that just because somewhere fails to meet one of their key tests (which they disregard anyway in some cases), or because an area is not already designated as a protected area, does not mean that their protection should not be extended to that area: it is an approach every bit as ignorant as a developer setting aside a 50' boundary strip after first ripping out several hundred trees and saying "We consistently strive to meet the highest environmental standards in everything we do and have an ongoing commitment to protecting nature and the local environment." Really?



The government, too, could help by relaxing the legislation on (and paperwork requirements for) cash crops like industrial hemp (an incredibly versatile crop with serious cash crop potential) and miscanthus; not to mention removing the completely unecessary and, in some cases, punitive fees for growing alternative crops, plus incentives could be given to farmers who can show (as in prove) that they are using green manure and allowing field areas to lie fallow across the entirety of their holdings (ie: not simply applying green manure to marginal or limited-return areas or only allowing buffer areas to lie fallow in order to pad their payments).

Further incentives could also be given to farmers to create coppicing and apiary projects5 (which, once operational, would produce a return for the farmer), and for supporting conservation projects or using herds of special breed livestock in environmentally sensitive locations where the use of such is known to help preserve those habitats; whilst further incentives could be given for the use of badgers in place of culls to protect livestock from Tuberculosis (any farmer who can genuinely call themselves such knows that healthy badgers will actively drive-out diseased badgers which enter their territory and are, thus, effectively self-regulating).

To some extent, within Cymru at least, there already exists a framework for this in the form of the Glastir [Green Earth] loan and greening scheme; but there is no question that this could be seriously extended, even to the extent of allowing farmers, regardless of existing contracts (on milk, for example), to sell their produce locally with a legal obligation on retail outlets to accept local produce in preference to other supplies, where available.

It should also be made mandatory for all farmers and landowners claiming farming subsidies to have to provide RPW with full and complete ownership details for all their holdings, including those owned outright by themselves, if claimed on.

As it stands, there is no obligation to do so which means that there are absolutely no checks in place against the activities of a farmer or landowners beyond those that exist between them and the owner(s) of a given piece of land, so if land is being mismanaged, or squatted, or claimed for illegally, there is no way of verifying that unless the actual landowner(s) become aware of, and take action against, the situation (which can take many years and which can be prohibitively expensive).



Notes:

[ 1 ] it is only possible to identify a farmer (and their postcode, not actual address) via a DEFRA CAP payments lookup, and field numbers via MAGIC (a website which is very difficult to find and a requirement of RPW in order for them to take action against a farmer or landowner). All other information has to be requested via a RPW information request or Freedom of Information request, whilst some further information can be gleaned from the Land Registry (always assuming that the enquirer has access to their services). Worse case scenario, land ownership can be verified via tax records (where there are no land registry records available, for example).

[ 2 ] these should also involve incentives for being able to prove the presence of protected species (whether fauna, flora, or both) on their land or holdings, either as a result of already being present or as reintroductions to their area (for which it should also be possible to apply for financial assistance with or grants if working in conjunction with the local communities); to make incentives like this paperwork only, with no proof, would otherwise make such incentives no better than the CAP system: open to abuse and with virtually no oversight save where a violation is suspected and blatant enough for it to not be possible to conceal it.

[ 3 ] current legislation would prohibit the sale of produce as organic until the soil and produce reach a certain quality standard, so it could be necessary to either introduce a new tier to organic produce (for produce that has been grown organically but has yet to reach full compliance, eg: Agri-Chemical Free) or the farmer could be maintained by government subsidy whilst they bring their farm up to the required standards (but only for the minimal duration required to be certified as being organic, in order to avoid a situation where the farmer somehow fails to ever manage to reach that stage).

[ 4 ] hence the reason for suggesting evidence-based financial incentives for protecting wildlife, as farmers and landowners, both, would then have a vested interest in protective land-management practises to ensure this; which, in turn, should invariably lead to a reduced dependency on agri-chemicals (even if not zero-dependency), and greater ecological resilience.

[ 5 ] coppicing projects, managed properly, have been proven to help maintain sustainable wildlife habitats for a wide-range of plants, animals, and invertebrates, and, as such, are an excellent use for unproductive tracts of wooded, or scrub, land which might otherwise be subject to 'improvement' and subsequent destruction.



Please Note: this site is undergoing ongoing changes and amendments as further details and evidence is gathered and added to the site, so please feel free to use the contact details given at the foot of this page should you have any questions or should you wish to submit further details or evidence of your own; but please do not send attachments without first contacting me, as the attachments will simply be deleted by the mail server otherwise.

All the media material on this site is available by request, including copies of the original .jpg, .mov, .mp4 files and additional material that is not currently part of the online article; likewise all letters and emails relating to contact with Rural Wales, the Environment Agency, and Natural Wales.

For anyone wanting to make their own reports of similar activities in their area, please contact me via my secure email address, and via a Protonmail account (free accounts available), if possible. Field numbers are also essential for reporting incidents to Rural Payments, and these can be determined via MAGIC [ Maps > Interactive Map > Where Am I? top menu-bar button) > click on relevant area on the main map for the field number after zooming-in on, or searching for, that area) ].

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- Just John, @: Ex5NY27U corequery.uk

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