Vic Warren's Green Stuff - latest news.

ELECTION WALES 2017

On June 6, 2017, in Uncategorized, by vic
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ELECTION 2017 – RURAL WALES AND OUR NATURAL ENVIRONMENT
I am a dedicated member of Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales (CPRW), but this is my personal assessment of the party manifestos.
THIS IS NOT A CPRW STATEMENT

In the imminent election, there are many aspects of life in Wales to consider as we decide how to vote. If you love our unique countryside and landscapes. please consider the issues affecting rural Wales and the environment, and question candidates about their policies in these areas. Our wonderful countryside, uplands, coast, green spaces constitute one of the main and most positive characteristics of Wales, valued by most of us in Wales and visitors alike, but some politicians seem to regard them as merely areas to exploit and build on. To mention just one of the threats that have emerged recently, huge areas of ‘solar farms’ covering the countryside appear to have little or no planning assessment and control . Solar panels – yes indeed, but on domestic and industrial roofs.
Please bear this in mind when you vote. Which parties
• Mention the environment at all? (If not, avoid them)
• Mention the need for protecting rural Wales for us, and more importantly for our future generations – landscapes, national parks and AONBs, countryside, farming, rural life?
• Value wildlife & biodiversity – designating protected areas, conserving habitats, helping pollinators? (ie no M4 Diversion across precious Levels)
• Recognise that green spaces and recreation improve physical and mental wellbeing?
• Appreciate that the natural environment provides multiple eco-services?
• Know that tourism is one of our main ‘industries’, and the beauty of rural Wales the major attraction?

SO WHAT’S IN THE WELSH MANIFESTOS FOR RURAL WALES?

LIBERAL DEMOCRATS
The manifesto pledges to:
- fight to prevent or counteract the adverse impacts on farmers of losing European aid from the Common Agricultural Policy and easy access to European markets.
– ensure good local services and community facilities such as schools, public transport, local shops, cultural venues and pubs, as well as more houses to meet local needs
- boost the attractiveness of Wales as a tourist destination
- ensure that every property and business in Wales has access to superfast broadband and good mobile phone coverage
Not much for the environment

WELSH LABOUR
A page and half on the environment towards the end of a long document, including the following, although it does slip into agro-industry speak now & again: -
• Investing in our environment is investing in our future. We will defend and extend existing environmental protections.
• ….. invest in rural and coastal communities …..
• …… Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Sites of Special Scientific Interest are all under threat.
• We will protect our bees by prohibiting neonicotinoids …….
• ……. we will work with farmers and foresters to plant a million trees of native species to promote biodiversity and better flood management ….
Some positives, but with experience of  recent WG environmental policies, I’m not convinced that degradation of the countryside and sacrificing green spaces everywhere in the name of economic growth will stop. Clincher for me is they are still promising the crude, old-fashioned, horrendously expensive M4 Diversion solution to a relatively minor and regional transport problem. Since Sue Essex retired, successive administrations have become increasingly anti-environment
UKIP
Not a lot on environment, I guess that’s not their main focus, but two helpful quotes: -
- Giving local people a greater say on major planning decisions through legally binding referendums
– Relying on wind-power is “not sensible”.

CONSERVATIVE
I cannot find any mention of environment, countryside, rural Wales. But it does say Conservatives will be
‘ … pressing the Welsh Government to deliver the M4 relief road’
So much for Conservative Conservation. You may guess my view on that

GREEN PARTY
Certainly the most innovative and interesting manifesto, worth reading. Includes: -
We need warm, sustainable and affordable homes cutting energy use, carbon emissions and reducing fuel poverty.
… an innovative green economy based on local micro and small-scale renewable generation projects
We support South East Metro and would cancel the planned expansion of M4
Many environmental positives, but only five candidates, so is it a waste of a vote?

PLAID CYMRU
PC has indicated its sensitivity for the Welsh environment at times, for instance its opposition to the M4 Diversion, so what about the manifesto?
Pretty pictures of our natural beauty throughout – a good start
Leanne Wood’s Intro- actually mentions ‘landscape’: -
The country’s landscape and past intertwine to reveal a nation with tremendous opportunities in tourism and the arts.
….. where we can meet our obligations as global citizens to the environment including ending our dependence on fossil fuels and preventing behaviours that are detrimental to our planet.
Then a second intro includes
They are the global challenges – social, economic, demographic, fiscal and, above all, environmental – that every nation in this century is facing.
I like the ‘above all, environmental’ bit. After that: -
We will promote our natural environment and biodiversity through effective sustainable development (So that’s ‘promote’, not protect or conserve)
The BBC review lists mention of environmental issues, including: -
– update and consolidate Welsh wildlife legislation, creating a new Wildlife Act for Wales
– introduce a new climate change act, adopting ambitious but achievable greenhouse gas and pollution targets for 2030 and 2050
- reduce plastic waste with a deposit return scheme
– fight to reform the Red Meat Levy so that £1m of lost funding for Hybu Cig Cymru stays within Wales
- oppose the construction and use of pylons through National Parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty
So there are a few positive proposals, but nothing about Welsh planning policy and process, questionable housing targets, wind & solar farms, management of National Parks etc

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Of course there are many other considerations when placing your cross, and I’ve no doubt missed some environmental stuff, but it is amazing to me that most parties
ignore the natural environment.
WE NEED IT FOR OUR FUTURE GENERATIONS!

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THE FOLLOWING HAS BEEN CIRCULATED TO ALL WELSH ASSEMBLY MEMBERS

M4 Diversion Black Route – Reasons for Opposing
Our fight is “not blind opposition to progress, but opposition to blind progress”. So said famous environmentalist John Muir, over 100 years ago. That precisely sums up much of the opposition to the misconceived M4 Diversion. Plus ça change …..!
If / when it comes to an Assembly vote once again, please consider if this would be a wise investment for Wales, or a huge mistake. Hundreds of your constituents – many members of the conservation and community groups that are objecting, and others – are convinced it is the latter.
To summarise the main points from objections: -
* Alternatives avoiding motorway solution were not properly assessed
* If South Wales Metro is not a complete failure, it will relieve M4 commuter traffic, new motorway is not needed
* Evidence for the traffic / congestion / accident case is not there – mainly ‘spin’, the M4 east rush hour is no worse than any other city peripheral motorway – or in fact other lengths of the M4 in Wales.
* Congestion that is rapidly worsening is in Cardiff – a new major route into Cardiff before Metro will gridlock the city
* Highway ‘Resilience’ case (no bypass route) – the Blue Route would solve that
* Business case not made – many criticisms – £1bn cost a huge underestimate
* Environment – Welsh Govt flouting its own policies for recognising crucial wildlife protection – confirming it is an anti-environment administration
* Heritage & culture – degrading, probably destroying, the unique & precious Gwent Levels landscape that has already been diminished by development
* Commissioner for Future Generations has questioned whether the process has complied with the WFG Act (it has not)
* This enormous expenditure in SE Wales would deprive other areas of Wales of investment – for no sound reason
See attachment for more detail (below)

Please do not let Welsh Govt make an appalling mistake that will be remembered and quoted for years.
Trusting that good sense will in the end prevail, I wish you a very happy and restful Christmas, and for the New Year, please reflect on conservation of our wonderful Welsh countryside for our Future Generations, as in the ground-breaking WFG Act – great talk, but please now ensure WG walks the walk.

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M4 Diversion – Various Grounds of Objection

In project literature and at exhibitions, Welsh Government’s (WG) representatives said: –

1.  Traffic is increasing, congestion is terrible, this length of M4 is dangerous

ALL WRONG, NO EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT THIS ‘SPIN’

  • Traffic – published traffic flows on this length of M4 show little increase in 15 years. Traffic flows nationally have plateaued. WG’s forecasts for 2035 are pie in the sky.  
  • Congestion – WG cannot produce statistics on congestion (I have repeatedly asked), so how do they know? They do not. Yes, M4 is busy in rush hours (some 12% of the week) – so is every other urban peripheral motorway.
  • Safety – the EuroRAP Risk Rating of Britain’s Motorways and A Roads, published by the Road Safety Foundation, classes the M4 in SE Wales as one of the ‘Low risk (safest) roads’. 

In any case, the effect of rail electrification (underway) and the South Wales Metro were not properly taken into account – how can a well-designed area Metro not relieve M4 commuter traffic? The new M4 would be an extraordinarily wasteful duplication to solve that perceived problem – a very expensive white elephant. 

2.  There is a highway network resilience problem, a new route is needed

This is the only real justification for a new M4; blockage of the Brynglas tunnels is a serious, but rare, problem. BUT an alternative has been put forward by Prof. Stuart Cole – the Blue Route would provide that resilience at a third of the cost, and also add great benefits in better access to Newport docks and industry. The Blue Route has not been properly assessed by WG. 

3.  There is a business case for providing the new road

WG has put forward a business case, but it is far from convincing. The economic value of spending over £1bn in SE Wales is lacking. Prof Cole’s ‘Blue Route’ proposal puts it succinctly: - 

The Federation of Small Businesses concludes that there is “a lack of common sense” in the current consultation with the Government committing the vast majority of Wales’ future borrowing capacity to a single project. This, it says, is not in the best interest of the wider Welsh economy.

Road policy in England from 2015 is to improve existing main roads, and not to build new motorways. It is very evident that there are similar needs for road improvements all over Wales, not least in NE Wales, and to improve north-south links. (Apart from its sub-standard character and notoriously slow journey times, almost the whole of the A470 is classed as ‘High risk’ in the Risk Rating mentioned above). Spending £1bn on the M4 in SE Wales will preclude other spending for years. A new motorway is out-of-date policy. To emphasise, this proposal would economically disbenefit areas of Wales outside the South-East.

More locally, Cardiff is already congested in commuting hours, yet this proposal in advance of Metro will add another major traffic flow. Cardiff will gridlock.

FoE also highlight major flaws in the flimsy ‘business case’, including costs not included which would substantially increase the cost of the scheme. This calculation puts the real cost of the scheme to be nearer to £2bn than £1bn, and the benefit / cost ratio to be close to 1, not 2. These are serious criticisms which would undermine the whole economic basis of the scheme, and must be answered.

4.  The environment has been considered

This is probably the most disingenuous argument. A new length of M4 flies in the face of all WG’s stated sustainability, environmental and cultural policies, and in particular the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. The Commissioner for Future Generations made her view clear early on in a letter to the Minister – that the proposal is not in accord with the Act. All the national environmental and wildlife bodies have also written to the First Minister, asking him to reconsider. A few examples –

  • The Wildlife Trusts are very critical of the abysmal failure of successive Welsh administrations to hit their own biodiversity targets (thus precluding our future generations’ enjoyment of, for example, fritillaries – butterflies and plants. And the need for pollinators, pharmaceuticals and myriad other interconnected essentials for human life), and much wildlife is still declining – a new M4 would considerably speed that up on the Levels;
  • Friends of the Earth point out that contrary to WG’s rhetoric, a new major road adding a new traffic flow will increase total CO2 emissions and climate change; and the properly estimated total cost is more like £1.5bn than £1bn
  • Campaign for Better Transport says “The M4 Black Route would be a disaster for nature, climate and public health. The Public Inquiry needs not just to look at less damaging road options, but how we use rail freight and public transport alternatives to get unnecessary journeys off the roads and reduce congestion. The new administration should abandon this expensive and damaging road project and unite people behind better alternatives.” 

5.  Other grounds of objection

There is much more – read the full published objections from the conservation groups, especially from Friends of the Earth and Campaign for Better Transport.

And can WG really contradict criticism that this expensive white elephant in south-east Wales would mean less infrastructure spending in all other regions, and/or other budget heads? Think about north, west & mid-Wales, not just south-east.

AND REMEMBER, THE WELSH LOCAL AND NATIONAL CONSERVATION BODIES REPRESENT MANY THOUSANDS OF RESIDENTS – WELSH VOTERS. As John Muir said over 100 years ago, our fight is “not blind opposition to progress, but opposition to blind progress”. Plus ca change …..

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LEAVE. Really?

On June 26, 2016, in Uncategorized, by vic
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The big issue (what could be bigger? A declaration of war, maybe). My view on this is basically that we have been persuaded to leave the Path to the Wicket Gate, and have landed in the Slough of Despond (to misquote Pilgrim’s Progress). Why did we leave the Path?
• Cameron was pushed into a referendum, with hindsight, he / they did not foresee the consequences if LEAVE won (they saw no chance of that), and they had no Plan B
• With hindsight again, a simple majority decision was completely wrong; it should have been defined as guidance for the government in charge, not an inviolate instruction
• LEAVE misled everyone with unfounded optimism, lack of risk assessment, even lies; REMAIN played a defensive game, with no positive strategy, they thought that would suffice.
• Such a huge existential decision cannot be decided on a decision, in a flawed vote, of just over 50%
• Many LEAVE voters are now saying they did not expect to win; or they voted just to kick the government, or the whole political class – not to answer the question on the ballot paper.
In a short few days since the vote, some of the muted predictions of gloom have already appeared – the £ drops like a stone; stock markets also; big companies are talking about moving out. It looks bad.
From an environmental viewpoint, it appears catastrophic. Economic necessity will be everything, environmental concerns disregarded, EU environmental legislation lost altogether
For Wales, no-one believes the generations of EU grants will be replaced by any UK government; unemployment is likely to rise, perhaps steeply, house prices drop (good for some, but few will be able to afford even lower prices), farmers will fare even worse, food, fuel, and much more will increase in price, flights and holidays will be particularly expensive. Can tax rises be avoided?
Maybe there will be an election, and a government pledged to reconsider will be elected; maybe the petition for a re-run referendum will achieve the purpose; maybe Scotland will hold up the UK decision. Maybe aliens will land and give us a larger problem. I hope so (except the latter)

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LDP NOT FIT FOR PURPOSE IN WALES

On April 24, 2016, in Uncategorized, by vic
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It has been getting worse by the year, but the Caerphilly Replacement Local Development Plan issue has brought it to a head. There is s real revolt against an LDP chaged from being based on brownfield development, to a completely diiferent one with huge areas of greenfield development. But communites are revolting
Some people describe this as ‘Selling out to the Developers’ But it is winding up into a big issue, and is bringing out into the open the huge deficiencies of the planning system in Wales (and England, reading CPRE), which include – my list: -

  • politicians & planners thinking continuous economic growth is essential (even possible);
  • economic and social priorities always trumping the third ‘triple bottom line’ criteria – environmental;
  • more housing is always the headline, but there is no clear assessment of need, empty properties, etc
  • biodiversity and the environment are luxuries that cannot be afforded;
  • the natural environment will accommodate any development thrown at it. (What’s just another field?)
  • planners & politicians know better than residents and communities (paternalism);
  • democracy and engagement are nuisances, and should be minimised;
  • an LDP does not include a business plan, which would demonstrate how the Plan will improve the lives of residents and future generations (together with a checklist that can be monitored). Planners will say that they have to monitor housing starts – nowhere near good enough;
  • also lacking – a proper assessment of how an LDP will affect the evironment into the future (together with a checklist against sustainability requrements)

Local Authorities such as Caerphilly have a blinkered ‘silo’ mentality, ignoring what is happening just over the border (ie 42.000 new houses in Cardiff). They insist on being self-sufficient, even when it doesn’t make sense. But regional planning is coming in Wales, under the Planning Act

What we need is a Campaign for Open Planning

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TONY JUNIPER QUOTE

On January 24, 2016, in Uncategorized, by vic
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From TJ’s ‘What Nature Does for Britain’: -
” … falsehood at the heart of the political debate, where we continue to be presented with an apparent choice between looking after nature on the one hand or growing our economy on the other”
Ignoring nature and the environment would be shooting ourselves in the foot (or worse). We must lobby Welsh Assembly election candidates, tell them conservation of the environment is not a luxury, it is essential. CPRW is doing so. To mention three costly reasons amongst dozens, that adversely affect the economy – FLOODING, POLLINATORS, AIR POLLUTION

ENVIRONMENTAL RESILIENCE

On December 28, 2015, in Uncategorized, by vic
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Heard Mr Rooke, Deputy CEO of Env Agency (England) on Today this morning on the catastrophic flooding, at the last he got to ‘resilience’, otherwise it sounded mostly prevarication. He mentioned more resilient buildings, didn’t mention safer (more resilient) infrastructure, ie electricity sub-stations above flood level.
But I hope EA (and NRW – vain hope) is also trying to change the govt’s longer-term strategy, the abysmal planning and land-use (build anywhere) and agricultural policies. So many people are shouting for a wider re-assessment of resilience, especially along the eco-systems route.
Is NRW / EA promoting strategies such as re-foresting and re-bogging the uplands to mitigate and slow down the river catchment run-off? And of course to assist biodiversity and continuing loss of wildlife. I don’t think so
Have you read Tony Juniper’s recent book, ‘What Nature Does for Britain’? If not, I recommend it highly – It should be compulsory for NRW / EA Officers.

HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO THE ENVIRONMENT

On December 22, 2015, in Uncategorized, by vic
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Dear Earth Environment – I know you are having a difficult time, what with us polluting the air and water, concreting chunks of countryside, poisoning pollinators, destroying wlldlife habitats, using up non-renewables, wasting energy  …. but some of us humans are trying to change things, and persuade others that you need more life support.

It should be straightforward, because if we lose you, it is also curtains for us, but some humans only think short-term, ignoring even their own future generations. Can you believe that?

So we’ll keep on making the case for you, old friend, and we do have some hope – the Climate Change Conference in Paris recently was pretty good. I’m working for you in Wales. Maybe we’ll both have a Happy New Year.   Vic

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

 

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UK FLOODS – BAD PLANNING CONTRIBUTES

On December 11, 2015, in Uncategorized, by vic
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FLOODS – Welsh Govt / local authorities – at least stop giving planning permission on flood plains (such obvious and blatant bad planning on the new housing estate at Ruthin, flooded within a year). Why do apparently professional planners and Inspectors do this? WG talks the talk – “Wellbeing of Future Generations Act” (stupid title) – but continues to build on any precious green spaces, storing up problems for our Future Generatons. Or as in the case at Ruthin, instant problems for the present generation. Mostly chasing this mythical “Growth” which will solve all our social problems, IT WON’T!
When I was an engineering manager for a Welsh LA, dealing with a bad storm causing flooding, an irate resident called, demanding acton to stop floodwater approaching his new house. And what was the Council going to do about it? I got sandbags delivered, but explained that he should complain to the developer, not the Council – the LA had refused planning permission for the estate (in a floodplain), but a Planning Inspector had allowed it when the developer appealed. .
Then there’s re-foresting the hills …. but that’s another campaign!

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#GivingTuesday – can you support CPRW?

On November 30, 2015, in Uncategorized, by vic
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   CAMPAIGN FOR THE PROTECTION OF RURAL WALES

                   www.cprw.org.uk                      

There are many wonderful landscapes in Wales,

but threats to the countryside and rural life keep appearing

                                                                                                                                                                              Copyright Visit Wales

CPRW is the only independent charity working to protect rural Wales, as it has been for over 80 years. But it needs help, so we are taking part in #GivingTuesday (Dec 1st). This is a global day to remember a charity for Christmas, and we hope you will support CPRW. Please use the day (or shortly after) to join us, or support the work we do through a donation.

You can read about CPRW and donate on our website (above), or you can text us a small donation from your mobile phone via JustGiving – text 70070 and write CPRW28 £5 (or whatever amount you wish). The donation is added to your phone bill. And / or, donate whilst you buy online – see the ‘Support Us’ section of the CPRW website.

Also an opportunity – if you are connected with a business, we are seeking sponsors for an edition of our glossy magazine ‘Rural Wales – get a message to our 1500 readers all over Wales

To give you a few examples of successful CPRW campaigns over the years: -

  • 2015 – Mid-Wales Wind Farms Inquiry – Energy minister Andrea Leadsom refused planning permission for four major onshore wind farms. CPRW was a major player in the campaign.

  • 2004 – New bridge over the River Monnow opens. CPRW Monmouthshire (John Edwards) was instrumental in re-siting it away from the great medieval gated bridge

  • 1995 – Usk Barrage – CPRW was a leading objector, the proposal was refused.

  • 1984 – Saltmarshes at Pembry saved from development by CPRW Pembrokeshire branch

  • 1976 – A55 crossing of River Dee planned as a bridge, but changed to a tunnel, so the  estuary beauty and castle view were saved by CPRW Conwy branch, led by Lady White

But the list above is a small part of the daily efforts of our campaigning. For example, Newport & Valleys branch, with a small committee, dealt with 14 proposals in the first 9 months of this year; whilst our professional Director debates & lobbies on national policy in the Assembly, Cardiff Bay.

If you also care about Wales, please join or donate to CPRW – and If you’re not local, then #GivingTuesday is a great reminder to come and visit our wonderful Wales! 

 

 

WELSH GOVT ‘NATURE FUND’

On January 5, 2014, in Uncategorized, by vic
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The WG has a £6m fund for Nature. Terrific news! Or maybe not, having attended a WG workshop seeking proposals on how to spend the pot. Apart from basic problems (parking etc), the half-day was quite insufficient for the aim and format. The large round-table discussions I participated in were almost entirely unproductive, with no chairperson, and loud mouths monopolising the discussions. But the main problem was that there appeared to be a hidden agenda to utilise the fund only for projects that would produce a financial return, so straightforward suggestions on spending that would assist wildlife were not good enough. It seems that the first priority was to ensure that the £6m benefits the economy, with any practical support for Nature coming a poor second.
Depressing, but not too much of a surprise given the WG policies that are becoming apparent – as much development in open countryside and urban green spaces as developers will build on, wind factories ad nauseam on the precious Welsh uplands, a motorway through 5 SSSIs on the Gwent Levels, unrealistic agri-environment schemes that cut subsidies to farmers and minimally benefit wildlife…. and so on. The environment and natural resources are being sidelined, everything must be sacrificed to economic growth. Even if that hits Wales biggest industry – tourism.
Without much hope I have suggested the following: -
1. To replace the critical loss of local authority ecologists (and probably also WG ecological resources), who were beginning to make a positive difference. It is clear that most LAs are finding ecologists and other environmental resources the easiest cuts to make in this time of public service reduction, and the positive activities of promoting biodiversity, educating, co-ordinating and raising awareness will cease. The remaining ecologists will be reduced to commenting on planning applications. Perhaps this could be achieved by way of working with existing relevant organisations such as the Wildlife Trusts.
2. It is quite clear that the Welsh planning strategy is for growth, including as much greenfield development as developers want, resulting in continuous and substantial loss of countryside and wildlife habitats and corridors. Some of the funding should be used to assess the effects of this strategy, and whether / how changes should be made to comply with biodiversity targets.
3. Speaking as a farmer’s husband, the current agri-environment policies are not working, either to assist hill farming or the environment. Again, some of the funding should be used to produce more realistic and effective eco subsidies.
4. There seems to me to be an almost complete lack of eco education for youngsters nowadays – use the fund to assist schools or establish other youth groups to get children away from their games machines, enjoy local green spaces, generate a sense of place, and grow adults with more appreciation of the natural world and its benefits for humanity.
5. Leverage – use some of the funding for projects for Welsh ecological and environmental organisations (including higher education bodies) to carry out for WG.
6. To mention the one semi-realistic possibility that I heard at the Merthyr workshop, use funding to kick-start a project removing diseased larch, selling the timber, and planting suitable replacement woodlands and other habitats.

I hope I am wrong, and we find the £6m really does produce a sea change in our declining Welsh natural environment. But I’m not holding my breath.

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