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Open access opens can of worms

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Urges caution over open access: Llyr Gruffydd AM, Plaid Cymru

Urges caution over open access: Llyr Gruffydd AM, Plaid Cymru

CONCERN has been expressed by farmers over proposed changes to access legislation in Wales, at a recent county NFU Cymru Annual General meeting.
Brecon and Radnor NFU Cymru County Chairman, Stuart Morris said : “NFU Cymru recognises that some reform is required to access legislation to allow for modernisation of the public rights of way network, through a process of prioritisation and rationalisation. In our response to the recent Green Paper we have made clear that the current system does not take into account modern-day farming. The procedures to divert or close public rights of way must be made far easier and less expensive.”
During the summer months, the Welsh Government carried out a consultation exercise to explore views on the potential for simpler, more integrated, legislation on access to the outdoors and public rights of way. Most alarmingly, concern was raised with regard to the proposal for an entirely new access settlement in Wales which would allow access for responsible recreation to all land in Wales.
Stuart Morris continued, “Farmers are deeply concerned that any proposals to extend access will impose severe limitations on the day to day running of their farming businesses. Our farms are our factory floor and consideration must be given to the fact that we have grazing livestock and cropping decisions to take.
“We have already seen the consequences of the vast spread of phytophthora ramorum and we would not wish for any repeat of this type of disease spread in any of our agricultural crops. There are also health and safety factors to consider such as access to emergency services if an accident were to occur.
“Overall, NFU Cymru is supportive of reform to simplify current legislation to allow a sensible rationalisation of the network. Wales already has a very extensive network of paths and access land and it is time that existing routes are maintained and clearly signposted. We would urge members to continue to lobby their own AMs on this important matter.”
Plaid Cymru Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs Llyr Gruffydd AM has also urged caution over government plans to introduce open access to the countryside. His call comes following the publication of HSE figures showing 74 deaths involving cattle in the past 15 years and in the wake of a series of high-profile animal welfare incidents linked to public access to farmland.
Plaid Cymru Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs Llyr Gruffydd said: “There is much that needs to be improved with the existing arrangements for access, rights of way and public footpaths in Wales. Updating antiquated legislation and outdated regulations would, for example, reduce many of the administrative burdens on those responsible for our paths.
“A quarter of Wales is already designated as open land and we have over 20,000 miles of public rights of way. There has been a threefold increase in land accessible by right by the public since 2005 meaning that over a million acres of Welsh countryside is already accessible to the public.
“If the Government genuinely wants to encourage more access then it should start by promoting the better use of what we already have. Flinging the farm gates wide open by introducing open access to all land in Wales is the wrong approach.
“Recent incidents involving dog attacks on livestock have reminded us that allowing public access onto farmland brings with it risks to land owners and for animal welfare. Health and Safety Executive statistics also highlight the dangers to the public in terms of injury and deaths. Among the 74 fatalities involving cattle were 18 members of the public who were either rambling or walking their dogs.
“These incidents generally occurred on public footpaths or rights of way and almost always involve dogs. If a dog comes between a cow and its calf then that can trigger an attack, which makes it all the more important that people do not wander at random and put themselves in danger.
“Wales has a countryside of which we can all be proud. Allowing responsible use of it by the public has clear benefits for health and our economy. As well as the national coastal path, our citizens already have access to hundreds of thousands of hectares of land and I don’t believe we’re making the best of this existing potential. The Government would do well to deliver more effectively on what we already have before seeking to introduce open access to all land in Wales.

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Farming

Farming faces zero carbon challenge

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AN AMBITIOUS new target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 will lead to significant changes in farming practices over the coming decades, according to a leading agri-environment specialist.

Professor Iain Donnison, Head of the Institute of Biological, Environmental & Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University, was responding to the publication of ‘Net Zero: The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming’ published by the UK Government Committee on Climate Change.

Professor Donnison is an expert on agriculture and land use, which feature in the report in terms of targets for one-fifth of agricultural land to be used for forestry, bioenergy crops and peatland restoration.

According to Professor Donnison, such a reduction is very ambitious but achievable in Wales and the wider UK. “Land use can positively contribute towards achieving the net zero targets, but there are challenges in relation to emissions from agriculture especially associated with red meat and dairy,” said Professor Donnison.

“In IBERS we are already working on how to make livestock agriculture less carbon intensive and developing new diversification options for the farming of carbon. For example, net zero targets could provide significant diversification opportunities for both farmers and industries that make use of biomass and wood for the production of energy, materials including in construction and for wider environmental benefits.”

Professor Donnison added: “The report gives a clear message regarding the importance of the task and the role that the UK can play to compensate for past emissions and to help play a leadership role in creating a greener future.

“The report says it seeks to be based on current technologies that can be deployed and achievable targets. One-fifth of agricultural land is a very ambitious target but I believe that through the approaches proposed it is achievable (e.g. for bioenergy crops it fits in with published targets for the UK). This is based on the knowledge and technologies we have now regarding how to do this, and because right now in the UK we are developing a new agricultural policy that looks beyond the common agriculture policy (CAP). For example, the 25-year Environment plan published by Defra envisages payment for public goods which could provide a policy mechanism to help ensure that the appropriate approaches are implemented in the appropriate places.

“The scale of the change, however, should not be underestimated, although agriculture is a sector that has previously successfully responded to challenges such as for increased food production. The additional challenge will be to ensure that we deliver all the benefits we wish to see from land: food, carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) management and wider environmental benefits, whilst managing the challenge of the impacts of climate change.

“The link is made between healthy diets with less red meat consumption and future reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. This reflects that agriculture will likely go through significant change over the coming decades as a result of changes in consumer diets.

“Net Zero targets, however, could provide significant diversification opportunities for both farmers and industries that make use of biomass and wood for the production of energy, materials including in construction and for wider environmental benefits.”

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Farming

HSE fees up 20%

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A FEE imposed on farm businesses found to be in breach of health and safety legislation has gone up nearly 20% to £154/hr.

Since October 2012 the Health and Safety Executive has operated a cost recovery regime, which means that businesses are charged for the costs of an investigation from the point a material breach has been identified through to the point when a decision is made on enforcement action.

If you are found to be in material breach of health and safety law, you will have to pay for the time it takes the HSE to identify the breach and help you put things right. This includes investigating and taking enforcement action. This charging scheme is known as a Fee for Intervention (FFI).

Robert Gazely, farm consultant and health and safety specialist for Strutt & Parker said: “A material breach is something which an inspector considers serious enough that they need to formally write to the business requiring action to be taken. Once an inspector gives a farmer this written notification of contravention (NoC), the farmer will be expected to pay a fee.

“From 6 April 2019, the hourly charge has been increased from £129 to £154. The final bill will be based on the total amount of time it takes the HSE inspector to identify the breach and their work to help put things right.

“Of course, the primary reason for farms to be proactive in their approach to health and safety should be to protect themselves, their families and any employees.

“The number of people who are killed and injured each year on farms remains stubbornly high and the human cost of these incidents can be incalculable to those affected.

“But taking a safety-first approach should also help farm businesses to avoid a financial hit, as the HSE fees can mount up in the event of an investigation.”

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Farming

Red meat gives ‘Taste of Wales’

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WELSH Lamb and Welsh Beef were among the finest of Welsh foods at Wales’ largest and most prestigious food and drink trade event, Taste Wales last month.

The remarkable display of products, all under one roof, brought together a large contingent of UK and overseas buyers, including importers with a specific interest in Welsh red meat. These included a major foodservice and retail importer and distributor from Scandinavia that imports 6,000 million tonnes of meat annually from all over the world. The company is recognised for bringing tasty food experiences to Nordic dining tables.

They were invited to the event by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) who also arranged site visits to some of Wales’ major red meat processing plants. The main aim was to impress the importers with the industry’s high ethical and environmental standards.

The visit, led by HCC’s market representatives in Scandinavia, was a platform for many productive and promising discussions.

One representative, Anette Stenebrandt said at Taste Wales: “We have a company from Sweden and Finland with us, trying to do some new business in the Nordic-speaking countries. This is really a fantastic fair and we have enjoyed it a lot.”

Her colleague Jakob True added: “This is our first time here at this amazing event, it’s a great opportunity to meet a lot of Welsh producers, particularly Welsh Lamb which is world-class, we know. We’ll go back to Scandinavia with a lot of good new leads and hopefully bring a lot of business to Wales.”

HCC’s Market Development Manager, Rhys Llywelyn said: “Many of the buyers we met at Taste Wales, including the Scandinavians, showed a significant interest in Welsh Lamb and were impressed by the whole package – from the story of producing Welsh Lamb to the processing techniques, the taste and texture.

“Others also expressed a keen interest in forging deals with the industry, including a Japanese department store, a major buyer from Hong Kong and a representative from Qatar. This bodes well for the future, especially as Brexit uncertainty is set to continue in light of the extension on Article 50.”

In recent months, HCC has undertaken a strategic GB marketing drive to encourage growth and recognition of our quality produce on British soil.

HCC’s UK Market Development Executive, Emily Davies said: “Our presence at Taste Wales also included concentrating our efforts on promoting Welsh Lamb in the domestic market. We met a number of foodservice companies, retailers and executive chefs and discussed Welsh red meat opportunities with meal-kit companies and online retailers. We also launched a new tool-kit for retailers which highlights the ways in which we can work with them to promote Welsh Lamb and Beef.”

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