NFU Cymru has described the Welsh Government ‘Taking Forward Wales’ Sustainable Management of Natural Resources’ consultation as ‘highly concerning’.
The Welsh Government Consultation, which closed last week, sought views on a broad range of proposals that are highly relevant and which could have serious implications for farm businesses across Wales if taken forward.
Proposals include radical changes to access legislation such as enabling cycling and horse riding on footpaths; extending CRoW Access land to rivers and other inland waters, coasts and cliffs; as well as revoking the list of restrictions on CRoW Access land to allow organised games, camping, hang-gliding or para-gliding. Other proposals include the introduction of basic measures – an entirely new tier of regulation for agriculture - for the protection of water, air and soil quality with the provision to penalise those found to be in breach.
Commenting, NFU Cymru President, Stephen James said: “The Welsh Government approach to this consultation has been highly concerning. The consultation process has been severely hampered by the bundling together of a raft of wide ranging proposals into a 10 chapter consultation. We are clear, given their significance, each chapter should have been the subject of separate consultation in their own right.
“In the context of EU withdrawal, farmers in Wales are operating in a period of profound uncertainty. While Brexit negotiations have begun, at this stage we do not know the terms of our future trading relationships or the shape of future domestic agricultural policy and regulation. Now is simply not the time to introduce an entirely new tier of regulation adding cost and complexity to farming in Wales.”
Hedd Pugh, Chair of NFU Cymru Rural Affairs Board, said: “NFU Cymru wants the public to access and enjoy our countryside but we are clear this has to be managed so they have the best and safest experience possible.
“Access users tell us they want clearly defined routes of specified distance and difficulty and, in our view, the limited resources available should be targeted to better utilise the existing resource - Wales has more public rights of way per square km than any other UK nation and over 460,000 hectares of access land – a threefold increase since devolution.
“Clearer rules around public access with dogs are also necessary and Government needs to go much further in protecting livestock through legislation and enforcement.”
Mr Pugh added: “Overall, however, farmers will be rightly alarmed by the proposals and the lack of safeguards. We strongly reject proposals that risk the safety of the public, increase costs and liabilities on farmers, reduce opportunities for farmers to develop diversified income streams and undermine tourism and recreation businesses that have been built up over many years.”
Concluding, Stephen James said: “Overall we are disappointed that such far reaching proposals could be taken forward on the basis of such inadequate consultation. Welsh Government must recognise that as farmers we manage over 80% of the land area of Wales on a day-to-day basis, as a result we are key partners in the delivery of environmental goods and services for society alongside our core food production role. The best outcomes will be achieved by working in partnership and the new legislative framework and ways of working presents the opportunity for the industry to work with Welsh Government and Natural Resources Wales on the development of voluntary, partnership approaches that deliver better outcomes for farming, the environment and society.”