How a rural Welsh village became the focal point of a bitter row over tree planting

One family were hit by the unintended consequences of government green policies, as Rhys Williams reports

You may have never heard of the Cothi Valley in Carmarthenshire, but it’s about as typical a picture of Welsh rural life as it gets. Green, hilly and beautiful.

This area’s economy and way of life is built around farming.

At the northern end of this predominantly Welsh-speaking valley is Cwrt-y-Cadno. The tiny village has become an unlikely battleground over the ethics of tree planting.

When Ian O’Connor agreed a price for Frongoch Farm, he thought he had achieved his lifelong dream of owning a farm in his home village to pass on to his three sons.

Two weeks later however, he received a call to say a mystery buyer had offered 10% more for the farm. Ian had been gazumped.

Ian O'Connor says he does not feel as though ministers understand the ways in which their policies are impacting on families like his. Credit: ITV News

The buyers later turned out to be Foresight Group, a private equity company based in the Shard in London.

Its intention was to plant fast-growing foreign conifer trees on virtually the entire farm to profit from both selling timber, investment from companies like airlines seeking to offset their emissions, and government grants.

Cwrt-y-Cadno may be ground zero, but it’s part of a wider struggle being played out in rural communities across the country.

The UK is under-forested compared to the rest of Europe. We are the second biggest importers of timber in the world after China.

To address this and tackle climate change, governments have set themselves ambitious tree planting targets.

The Welsh government, for example, wants to plant 43,000 hectares of woodland in Wales by 2030, and a massive 180,000 hectares by 2050.

It has launched a scheme offering several grants to encourage tree planting, as well as buying its own land in order to plant trees.

The Welsh government has said it wants to plant millions of more trees by the end of the decade. Credit: ITV News

Julie James MS, the Welsh government’s Climate Change Minister, says the government wants “the right tree in the right place” and doesn’t want trees planted on “good quality farmland”, but farming unions say this is already happening.

The reality is, however, that for the UK to meet its enormous tree planting targets foresters and farmers need to work together.

Both sides say they’re keen to do just that, but continued squabbling could see these vital targets to tackle the climate emergency missed altogether.

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