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.