Wilding in the last

IT’S now two years since Y Tir published a cartoon showing a vulture with an RSPB leg‐ring hungrily watching over a farmer, in a scene aimed at depicting how a worst‐case Brexit scenario might impact Welsh agriculture.

Such cartoons are by nature unforgiving, but the point being made was a serious one: Environmental organisations are generally uncomfortable about some of the implications of Brexit, but their desire to redirect the 7 5 per cent of rural funding which must currently, under CAP rules, go to farmers leaves them salivating.

While the failure of mainstream NGOs to recognise the economic role of direct farm support has been a concern for decades, bodies with a far more extreme ‘rewilding’ agenda are relatively new kids on the block ‐ although the concept of creating ‘rewilded’ landscapes, where agriculture is abandoned, large ‘apex’ predator species are reintroduced and people have little or no direct interaction with the land, has been around for decades.

At the forefront of the rewilding movement is the charity Rewilding Britain, inspired by George Monbiot’s 2 0 1 3 book Feral (Monbiot also helped set it up). Feral includes chapters entitled Bring Back th e Wolf and Sh eepwrecked, and earmarks the Cambrian Mountains as an ideal place in which a landscape and culture generated by 5 ,0 0 0 years of agriculture could be replaced by a ‘rewilded’ environment.

A recent column by Patrick Galbraith called rewilding “…a nebu lou s rad ical political movement, rid ing a wave of nostalg ia and sou l‐search ing in an intensely u rbanepoch ”, so it’s hardly surprising that the momentum behind the rewilding movement has grown ‐ especially when we consider that three quarters of the UK’s population live in urban environments, and that even larger percentage have no real contact with nature or farming.

In October 2 0 1 8 Rewilding Britain announced “ou r first land scape scale project” in the form of the £ 3 .4 million Su mmit to Sea project.

While Rewilding Britain claim the Summit to Sea area will within “five years…comprise at least 1 0 ,0 0 0 hectares…”, the project area map actually covers around 6 3 ,0 0 0 hectares (1 5 6 ,0 0 0 acres) of north Ceredigion and Montgomeryshire ‐ including Pumlumon, a large area of which has been sold by The Crown Estate to Summit to Sea ‘partners’ The Waterloo Foundation.

Other partners which own or manage land in the area include The Woodland Trust, Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust, RSPB, Wales Wild Land Foundation and Natural Resources Wales (NRW).

In the spiel accompanying the Summit to Sea project, Rewilding Britain highlight the economic challenges and threats faced by farming communities (conveniently, a large part of that threat is down to the proposals to abandon direct farm support, which environmental bodies have lobbied for), and portray themselves as saviours who would create a new form of rural economy where “Core…and bu ffer areas will be establish ed by connecting u p existing restorationinitiatives…and acqu iring additional strateg ic parcels of land wh ere appropriate. Natu ral processes will be restored …and , wh ere appropriate, missing species will be reinstated .” wh ich will “be allowed to dynamically sh ape th e landscape…

“Core areas will su pport well‐manag ed , low‐impact tou rism and recreation and will be extend ed over time wh ere possible…Su rrou nd ing bu ffer areas will su staina rang e of prod u ctive enterprises of h ig h natu re valu e, su ch as low‐impact continu ou s‐cover forestry, h arvesting of natu ral prod u cts, and valu e‐ad d ed meat prod u ctionand fish ing .”

Those who understand rural economics will recognise the social and economic dangers of pursuing such a utopian vision, but for many living in urban environments, hundreds of miles away from Mid Wales, Summit to Sea will look like a silver bullet that quenches environmental concerns and passions while simultaneously helping struggling indigenous communities ‐with the added bonus of creating their very own Grizzly Adams style wilderness right here in the UK.

The relationships between various bodies and individuals linked to the project are shown alongside this article, and while it seems unlikely that the intentions are anything but well meaning, it is ironic to say the least that the £ 3 .4 million in funding comes from a trust set‐up by those who are also involved in sheep farming on a vast scale on land that was until relatively recently an untouched wilderness.

It appears Wales is not alone in being the target of what many are calling eco‐colonialism: Danish clothing billionaire Anders Povlsen and his wife Anne now own 8 9 ,0 0 0 ha across the Scottish Highlands, where they have heavily restricted sheep grazing in order to pursue a rewilding agenda.

While few can afford to buy land on such a scale, the Summit to Sea area risks becoming a magnet to those selling up in London or elsewhere, or with a bit of money put to one side, who want to buy directly or indirectly into Rewilding Britain’s vision of how people in a different country should live their lives.

Proposed cuts to support for active farmers, published post‐Brexit tariff rates which slash duty on food imports and possible trade deals to allow cheap food into the country would all fuel such a rewilding land‐grab, and the long term threat to our communities and culture must not be ignored. The FUW has raised concerns about Summit to Sea with Welsh Government, Natural Resources Wales, Assembly Members and others, and members who share the union’s concerns should do the same.

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