Natural Resources Wales

Aug 312017
 

REFRESHER

In my previous post I wrote of Cymdeithas Gofal / Ceredigion Care Society, and its sister-outfit to the south, the Pembrokeshire Care Society, but I focused more on The Wallich. All three are involved in the homelessness business and are funded by the ‘Welsh’ Government and local authorities.

Due to something niggling away inside the old Jac cranium, which prompted me to make more enquiries, I am returning to Cymdeithas Gofal.

CYMDEITHAS GOFAL WHO’S WHO

The homelessness that keeps Cymdeithas Gofal in business tends to be a consequence of behavioural and other issues like drug addiction and alcohol abuse, psychiatric problems, recently leaving prison, etc.

And yet, when I looked at the directors of the company Cymdeithas Gofal and the trustees of the charity (the same as the company’s directors apart from one), I was struck by the fact that despite catering for people with problems requiring treatment, counselling and other help, I could see no one among the director-trustees with a medical – let alone a psychiatric – background, or any experience in probation or social work. In short, none of them seemed qualified to be dealing with the people they claimed to be ‘helping’.

So who are these director-trustees, and what expertise do they bring to Cymdeithas Gofal?

The first name we encounter is Guy Hamilton Evans, of whom more later.

Which means we’ll start with the second name on the Companies House list of directors, Brian Craig Forbes. He is the managing director of Crystal Catering Equipment Ltd, an Aberystwyth company supplying various establishments with glassware.

The next name is Robert John Gray, listed as an accountant and a director at Francis Gray Ltd of Aberystwyth. (Formerly Francis, Jones & Davies.) Gray is also a director of Constitution Hill Ltd, the company running the cliff railway. We also see him associated with CGC Trading Ltd, of which more anon.

Next up is Anthony Philip Hearn. His other interest seems to be Circle Square Star Ltd, based in Cardiff. Though I doubt if this is his day job.

The only woman serving as a director is Susan Jane Jones-Davies. A Plaid Cymru town councillor, former mayor, and Judith Iscariot in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. She is also involved with Menter Aberystwyth.

Now we come to Tony Kitchen, also listed as an accountant, but with no other directorships.

Within a year of moving to Wales he’s a trustee of Cymdeithas Gofal. Amazing!

Next is Mark Anthony Strong, a librarian at the National Library and the Plaid Cymru county councillor for Aberystwyth North. (Though this bio insists on calling it ‘The Party of Wales’.) Strong too is a director of CGC Trading Ltd and Menter Aberystwyth. More surprisingly, he is also a director of the cliff railway company, Constitution Hill Ltd.

One who joined the board on May 10 this year, at the same time as Judith Iscariot, was Charles Alexander Symons, who is a director of Thin Place Productions, along with a Jamie Walker. (They were also involved in a now-dissolved company called Insukit Ltd.) Thin Place Productions is in the movie business, but little seems to be moving at the moment as the company is dormant. The address given for TPP is c/o Francis Gray, where of course we encountered Robert John Gray above. Again, day job unknown.

Is it me, or is this beginning to sound rather incestuous?

Bringing up the rear, understandably, we have the other new arrival in the form of Richard Graham Wells. Now I’m all in favour of experience, but still rather surprised that Cymdeithas Gofal should recruit a 77-year-old as a new director. He seems to be retired and all I could find about him is that he’s recently had a run-in with the county council.

So while the business community of Aberystwyth seems well represented – especially accountants – there is no one among the directors who seems in any way qualified to deal with the people Cymdeithas Gofal traffics, people with alcohol and substance abuse issues, criminal behaviour, psychiatric disorders and other complex needs.

THE MAN OF THE WOODS

Now let’s turn to the man who seems to be running the show, Guy Hamilton Evans, the chief executive and the only one of the directors who does not also serve as a trustee. What does Evans bring to the party?

In a word – wood. For when left to his own devices he’s a director of Tir Coed, which might ring a bell, for I wrote about them a year ago in Grant-grabbers, How They Are Related. I urge you to read that article to understand what sort of people we are dealing with. Tir Coed is also a charity.

Tir Coed has a linked social enterprise outfit called Wisewoods Wales. The three other directors – John Wildig, Basil Keith Blacker and Robert Shaw – are also directors of Tir Coed. All belong to that milieu of grant-grabbing Greens that infest our rural areas and wonders how we managed without them telling us how to look after our country.

Then there’s Kick The Bar Brewery (formerly Guy Hamilton Ltd) where Evans’ partner is Robert Lewis Bates. A dormant company.

The other company of which Evans is a director is CGC Trading Ltd, mentioned above. If we look at the capture from Evans’ Linkedin profile we see highlighted “I have orchestrated the growth of the charity including establishing a trading subsidiary”. This of course is CGC Trading. (Cymdeithas Gofal Ceredigion?)

Though as the latest group accounts (foot of page 3) tell us, “The subsidiary reported a trading loss for the year of £24,879 (2015: £12,784).” Evans’ ‘orchestration’ seems to have hit a bum note.

But the question many of you must be asking is, ‘How and why did this man of the woods get involved with Cymdeithas Gofal, which I described in my previous post as a human trafficking organisation?’ The answer lies in the post from last year I referred you to earlier.

BIRMINGHAM TAKES BUT ELAN GIVES . . . TO CYMDEITHAS GOFAL

What I was writing about then was a scheme called ‘Elan Gives Back’, run by Natural Resources Wales and Dŵr Cymru, to “reconnect the people of Birmingham with their water source”, because of course the dam was built by the old Birmingham Corporation.

The whole premiss was insane, seeing as the land for the reservoirs had been stolen by Birmingham. It should have been Birmingham ‘giving back’ not us. But then, this is the upside down world of colonialism.

The outfit doing the ‘reconnecting’ was Tir Coed, which sent emissaries to Birmingham to meet various bodies and to find individuals worthy of enjoying “weekend retreats and bespoke activities in the Elan Valley”. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you what sort of people Tir Coed was looking for.

It’s spelled out on Tir Coed’s Charity Commission webpage.

So through the ‘Elan Gives Back’ scheme, and regular visits to Birmingham, Tir Coed – in the dapper form of Guy Hamilton Evans – built up links that could provide a regular supply of clients for Cymdeithas Gofal. Didn’t that work out well, boys and girls?

In fact, seeing as Evans became a director of Cymdeithas Gofal back in May 2011, he was using Tir Coed and the ‘Elan Gives Back’ scheme last year to recruit criminals, drug addicts and young tearaways for Cymdeithas Gofal. I wonder how Natural Resources Wales and Dŵr Cymru feel about their project being used in that way, and what about the bodies that funded the project?

TIR COED AS SNAKE OIL

This may be a good point at which to visit the Tir Coed website.

Perhaps the first thing of note is that under Our Partners we see Cymdeithas Gofal listed. Which is odd when you think about it, and look at the other Partners.

Unintentionally revealing is the Tir Coed Theory of Change which manages the near-impossible in being both laughable and insulting. Listed among the ‘Issues’ (ishoos) leading to the ‘Consequences’ of ‘Low self-esteem’ and ‘Anger and violence’, which in turn feed into the ‘Possible Outcomes’ of ‘Criminal activity’ and ‘Substance misuse’, we find ‘Rural location’.

‘Tir Coed cures all known ills’ (click to enlarge)

As I say, this is very revealing, because people born and bred in the countryside and small rural towns are less likely to follow those courses than people born in towns and cities. However, people from large towns and cities who have been trafficked into rural areas will certainly be more likely to suffer these problems – but they will have brought the problems with them! Talk about self-justifying bollocks.

It can only be a matter of time before erectile dysfunction is added to the Tir Coed Theory of Change and sales of Viagra and Cialis plummet.

BRITISH, BRITISHER, BRITISHEST

Fundamentally, you have to ask how an organisation like Cymdeithas Gofal can carry on a business that is so obviously damaging to Wales. Perhaps the answers can be found by looking again at Evans’ co-directors. The panel below shows the directors’ details taken from the Companies House website.

click to enlarge

Of the nine, just two appear to be Welsh. Evans himself, and Judith Iscariot. Which means that of nine directors of a Welsh company, just two are in fact Welsh.

What I also find worrying is that, despite Companies House offering directors the option to give their nationality as Welsh, even Evans and Jones-Davies are described as ‘British’, as is Strong, the other Plaid Cymru councillor. Only two have ‘Wales’ as part of their address, for the rest it’s ‘Aberystwyth, United Kingdom’ and ‘Borth, Great Britain’.

So stridently British does Cymdeithas Gofal appear, despite the Plaid Cymru connections, that it could be the local branch of Ukip.

Although I said that Guy Hamilton Evans is Welsh, and he certainly attended Aberaeron Comprehensive, it’s suggested that despite the name he might not be Welsh. As for Sue Jones-Davies, she only came aboard in May this year, perhaps representing the town council, Menter Aberystwyth, or just recruited to give a little Welsh flavour to this overwhelmingly English organisation.

TAKING WORK HOME

We’ve noted the absence of relative expertise among the directors, so what of those running the show day to day, do they provide it?

According to the website, the senior management team is composed of head honcho Guy Hamilton Evans plus Richard Lucas, Jeremy Brown and Amanda Gwalchmai. Lucas and Brown are both English as, I suspect, and despite the name, is Gwalchmai.

Ms Gwalchmai’s interest in property management doesn’t end when she leaves Cymdeithas Gofal Tower in downtown Aberystwyth, for with her partner, Luke John Veasey, she runs L&A Real Estates Ltd, a letting agency. In addition, both are directors of building company LJV Construction Ltd.

So no obvious medical qualifications, social work experience, background in probation services, etc., to be found among the senior management either.

THE RENTIER CLASS

I now know enough about Cymdeithas Gofal to know that, yes, it does as it claims on its Charity Commission entry, in that it helps those threatened with homelessness. What it won’t tell us – for obvious reasons – is that most of these it helps have been brought into Ceredigion through links with English charities and agencies and are likely to be both a burden on health and social services and disruptive to Welsh communities.

We know that some of those links were established by Tir Coed through the ‘Elan Gives Back’ nonsense, which was yet another insulting waste of Welsh public funding. Tir Coed, remember, run by Cymdeithas Gofal’s chief executive Guy Hamilton Evans.

I think we have found enough connections and extra-curricular activities to warrant serious questions being asked about the real purpose of Cymdeithas Gofal. Given the interconnectedness we have found, we might start with, what is being withheld in “related party disclosures”? (See capture from the accounts, below.)

It might help evaluate this decision if Cymdeithas Gofal was more specific and quoted the section of the Financial Reporting Council guidance it’s using to justify withholding information.

Is this refusal to disclose “related party transactions with wholly owned subsidiaries” a reference to the Estates and Lettings agency run by Cymdeithas Gofal? If so, what would it have to hide?

A cynic might suggest that Cymdeithas Gofal exists in order to benefit none but the rentier class of Ceredigion. For not only does Cymdeithas Gofal ensure a steady supply of tenants for private landlords, those it brings in carry premium payments.

Because of course any private landlord will demand a lot more money to house ex-cons, drug addicts, etc., and why not, when he or she knows the money is readily available from probation companies, charities and other agencies, and of course from our very own ‘Welsh’ Government.

WALES GETS POORER BUT THE THIRD SECTOR GROWS. IS THERE A CONNECTION?

Cymdeithas Gofal is a perfect example of the Third Sector we’ve seen grow at an alarming rate since the advent of devolution. A Third Sector that soaks up a vast chunk of the Welsh budget every year, and yet, when looked at closely, seems to be largely irrelevant to the needs of the indigenes.

The time has surely come to start asking the difficult questions about Cymdeithas Gofal, such as:

  • How many of Cymdeithas Gofal’s clients were living in Wales a year before first being ‘helped’ by the Society?
  • How many directors or staff of Cymdeithas Gofal benefit – other than through salaries and other authorised payments – from the work done by the Society?
  • How many third parties providing accommodation or other services for Cymdeithas Gofal enjoy close links with directors or staff of the Society?
  • Might there not be a conflict between Cymdeithas Gofal being both a charity helping the homeless and others while simultaneously acting as a commercial lettings agency? Shouldn’t the two roles be split?
  • Seeing as Cymdeithas Gofal works with those having substance or alcohol abuse problems, people prone to disruptive – often violent – behaviour, others recently released from prison, where does the necessary expertise come from, for there seems to none among the senior management, trustees or directors?
  • Why are so few Welsh people involved with Cymdeithas Gofal?
  • Why can the ‘Welsh’ Government, local authorities and other bodies, find no better use for hundreds of millions of pounds every year than taking on problems that should be nothing to do with Wales?
  • Apart from those directly involved, and the local rentier class, who in Wales benefits from the activities of Cymdeithas Gofal, the Pembrokeshire Care Society, and their counterpart organisations across the land?

♦ end ♦

UPDATE 01.09.2017: Word on the street is that a ‘merger’ is being lined up between Cymdeithas Gofal and Tai Ceredigion. Any further information anyone might want to send me will be used in strictest confidence.

Sep 262016
 

BY A GUEST WRITER

It’s a pleasure to follow the excellent guest posts on tourism and heritage that have generated a fair amount debate, shining a light on the dubious practices of the Welsh tourism industry and how these practices affect local communities as a result of flawed Welsh Government policy.

The focus of the posts so far has been on the neglect of heritage, history and tourism in rural Wales under non-Labour councils which – and though it’s not a view I share – could perhaps be expected. I say that because most people in rural Wales vote Plaid Cymru, Tory or Lib Dem, so wasting public money, trashing our heritage and screwing people over, has no consequences, electoral or otherwise, for the Labour Party.

But what about a Labour-controlled council in the Valleys, surely they’d take more care of local history and heritage when their own party’s history is intertwined with the area?

The Plan

If only that were true, Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council, the smallest local authority in Wales and back in Labour hands since 2012 as the result of an appalling smear campaign to oust the Independents who’d run the Council and started many of the successful projects that Labour councillors and the new MP and AM are now claiming credit for, published a few weeks back its Area Destination Plan for 2016 – 2018.

merthyr-plan

With its main focus on outdoor activities and leisure it could belong to any rural or semi-rural local authority, and don’t get me wrong, BikePark Wales, Dolygaer Outdoor Activity Centre and Cyfarthfa Castle Park and Museum are great attractions, but when Merthyr Tydfil has so much political, industrial, social and cultural history failing to acknowledge the majority of it makes a mockery of any tourism plan.

There is a nod to Merthyr’s epoch-defining industrial past in the plan with a commitment to looking to rebuild a life size replica of Richard Trevithick’s steam locomotive engine, the first in the UK, but that’s reliant on the local heritage society raising enough money to get it built. Perhaps Labour Councillors aren’t willing to celebrate innovation, engineering excellence and vision for fear of showing local people there’s more to life than mediocrity, dependency and poverty that hallmark ‘Welsh’ Labour at all levels of government.

The Plan also talks of Welsh language provision via the Welsh language centre Canolfan Soar but again if you look closer the centre is facing its own financial difficulties as a result of funding cuts with its Welsh shop closing earlier this year. And as this is the Valleys, hostility to the Welsh language spending is never far away, as demonstrated by Labour and the opposition Independents in the full Council meeting earlier this month.

Another area mentioned is the lack of indoor activities in a town where rain is more often the order of the day than sunshine. So a lack of museums, interactive galleries and the like does seem particularly stupid to me.

Although to be fair the Plan does have an excellent SWOT analysis, but the action plan doesn’t include solutions for central recommendations like the lack of a Tourist Information Office and large scale accommodation. Even if we suspend belief and buy into the tourism lite guff they’re peddling, how can you be a serious tourist destination without enough beds or a central tourist information office?

The irony of course is that loads of places would love to have even half the history Merthyr Tydfil has and it could be that if tourism was done properly then the Borough would have year-round tourism selling Merthyr to the world. It could be integrated into local education, provide better job and career opportunities and re-instill some pride back in the place for those who were born here or made the place their home.

Welsh History started with Labour

However, we shouldn’t be surprised, this is the Labour Party after all, which believes Welsh history started with the birth of their party or the election of James Kier Hardie in 1900 . . . even though he is hardly celebrated anywhere in the town.

As if to reinforce this, Neil Kinnock’s ‘Welsh history’ quote did the rounds on social media last week, the quote reads, ‘Between the mid sixteenth and mid eighteenth centuries Wales had practically no history at all, and even before that it was a history of rural brigands who have been ennobled and called princes.’

The local Labour Party does hold a Kier Hardie lecture that’s only open to party members, and speakers also have to be Labour members or Labour affiliated, and no press is allowed. Held now in secret because last year there was great embarrassment when the keynote speaker was First Minster Carwyn Jones, and the local party was reduced to giving tickets away and begging people to go.

What a difference it would make if the party opened it up to everyone, picked radical topics and speakers, had a question and answer session with a panel afterwards, possibly publish a paper on the topic and made it into a real community event. I doubt it would happen, but it’s one of many ideas to celebrate the town’s history and create an event for all.

merthyr-rising

Even the raising of the red flag and the Merthyr Rising festival that celebrates it is shunned by the local council, though UNISON stepped in to save the festival this year thanks to the new Labour AM Dawn Bowden who used to be a UNISON big wig and whom Jac has helpfully written about. Time will tell if the festival becomes a Labour sop which would be a shame as the festival organisers are about as far away from the ignorant, conservative Labour Council leadership values as it’s possible to be.

Labour leadership & Red flag

Speaking of the red flag and going slightly off course, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn came to Merthyr Tydfil on 5th August as part of his leadership campaign and unsurprisingly found no support from the local Labour leadership who were all supporting Owen Smith.

Council Leader Brendan Toomey, Gerald Jones MP and Dawn Bowden AM (who was on holidays), took to Twitter to vent their anger about the rally saying he didn’t represent the party or local people etc., but Jeremy Corbyn had the last laugh, not only did he draw a sizeable crowd, but his use of the red flag brought the history of the town to a UK wide audience and got the town and red flag trending on social media for positive reasons.

corbyn-merthyr

It’s easy to see how the Merthyr & Rhymney Labour leadership were so annoyed, Jeremy Corbyn’s two hours in Merthyr did more to promote the town’s radical history than Council leader Brendan Twomey and his Cabinet have managed in four years.

Speaking of our elected representatives, on Twitter, Dawn Bowden, Bristol City fan living in Llantrisant, posted a picture of the overgrown blast furnaces in Merthyr Tydfil saying ‘what an incredible history this wonderful town has’. It seems the new AM is fitting right in with the dinosaur tendency that believe Welsh history began with industrialisation.

Weight of History and Remembering

I’ve written a fair bit and barely scratched the surface of the borough’s history or introduced the one person who belongs solely to the town yet rarely gets mentioned, despite the place being named after her, St Tydfil/Tudful, the princess and daughter of King Brychan who was martyred in the fifth century by raiding Picts.

She’s remembered with a Church in Wales church named after her, as is the local shopping centre, while Merthyr Tydfil Football Club’s nickname is the Martyrs. Yet outside of the church there is no acknowledgement of her, indeed admitting that Tydfil lived and died and was renowned for good deeds and values such as compassion to all, would mean Welsh history didn’t start with the Industrial Revolution or the Labour Party after all. But I suspect it’s also because she’s a woman and a victim of Labour’s patriarchal and misogynist attitudes, especially in the Valleys.

the-martyrs

Of course Labour blames its wider lack of action on austerity, ‘We would love to do things’, they sigh, ‘but we’ve got no money’, when opposition councillors ask why aren’t things done. But what about things that don’t cost and could raise awareness of local history, like using the flag poles outside the Council office on St David’s Day or flying the Red Flag in May or Owain Glyndŵr’s banner in September? And I’m sure there are other little things that could be done, but I suspect it’s all a leap too far for closed, anti-Welsh minds.

I could write more on all that’s happened and why it should be celebrated; there’s Lucy Thomas, called the mother of Welsh steam coal trade, a widow who was the first person to export stream coal and give birth to coal exports. Away from industry, Merthyr was also the birthplace of designers Laura Ashley and Julian McDonald; and then there’s Charlotte Guest, wife of iron-master John Guest, who arranged for the Mabinogion to be translated into English. (Also, Dr Joseph Parry, who wrote the music for that all-time favourite, Myfanwy. Jac.)

To bring us up to date, a recent archaeological study found evidence of Roman activity in the borough, and Merthyr-born Samuel Griffiths, whose family emigrated to Australia, was responsible for writing Australia’s constitution, a fact recently in the news as the current Australian Chief Justice visited the town and called for closer cooperation – will Merthyr’s Labour leaders take him up on the offer?

Conclusion

Sometimes the sheer weight of remembering everyone and everything that’s happened can feel overwhelming, but it’s important because it tells us who we are and where we’ve come from.

I’ll end by pointing out that the lack of imagination coupled with an ingrained indifference or hostility towards Welsh history before the Labour Party, or industrialisation, means that even in Merthyr Tydfil, which gave birth to the modern Labour Party, we get the Area Destination Plan pushing Welsh history and heritage to the margins instead of using it front and centre. Most places in the world would kill for the history we have yet the Council focus is on weather dependent tourism in the rainy Valleys.

Of course, if there was a decent opposition here it could challenge the status quo. Which is why we should be grateful for the work of genuinely local history societies and historians, doing what they can to counter the hostility and apathy found all over Wales, attitudes that contribute to the slow death of our nation.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ END ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Jac says . . . I’ve always had a soft spot for Merthyr, going back to those happy hours spent at the Lamb Inn, in the days of its irreplaceable mine host, the late John Lewis. This magnificent pub, almost unchanged since the days when Dic Penderyn was said to have drunk there, was demolished in the early 1970s to ‘make way’ for something that was never built.

The truth was that the Labour council didn’t like the Lamb’s clientèle. As our guest writer informs us, nothing has changed when it comes to the Labour Party in Merthyr and its attitudes to expressions of Welshness.

green-desert-complete-red

One of the best LPs ever produced in Wales (click to enlarge)

Moving away from delicate concerns of identity and loyalties, our guest writer offered some hope for the area by mentioning BikePark Wales and Dolygaer Outdoor Activity Centre; and so, you know me, I just had to learn more. I’m afraid what I learnt is not encouraging.

BikePark Wales is the trading name for something called Beic Parcio Cymru Ltd. (Yes, honestly!) So while everyone knows it as BikePark Wales it’s official name is something else, perhaps done to make it difficult to get information on the company. (I’ve encountered the practice before.) To help you follow this, here’s the link to the Companies House website.

BikePark Wales looks like one of those outfits so common – perhaps unique – to Wales, a publicly-funded private company, for the website (designed by a company in Cornwall) carries the logos of Visit Wales, the ‘Welsh’ Government and the European Regional Development Fund. I suspect the directors are not local . . . certainly not the New Zealander.

In financial terms the company seems to be in good health, with net assets of £674,963 (y/e 31.03.2015). Though there are three outstanding charges registered with ‘The Welsh Ministers’, and a debenture held by Ian Campbell Officer (the New Zealander director).

A founding director of BikePark Wales is Martin Astley. But his Linkedin profile would suggest that his day job may be Marketing Manager for Saddleback Ltd, a Bristol company selling mountain bikes and associated ephemera. In fact, BikePark Wales serves as a useful retail outlet for Saddleback’s wares. Just think about that, here we have a venture funded with Welsh public money giving an English company an advantage over Welsh retailers. Now that’s colonialism for you!

martin-astley-bikepark-wales

The other directors are the aforementioned Kiwi, Astley’s wife Anna, and another husband and wife team, Rowan John Sorrell and Elizabeth Sorrell, also founding directors. In addition, the Sorrells have their own company over in Pontypool, Back-on-Track Mountain Bike Solutions Ltd which designs and builds mountain bike tracks. So I wonder who designed and built BikePark Wales’ tracks around Merthyr?

The other location mentioned by our guest writer was the Dolygaer Outdoor Activity Centre. All that needs to be said is that Dolygaer is owned by English company Parkwood.

If you go down in the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise . . . not because you’ll meet a teddy bear but because there’s a good chance you’ll get knocked down by a mountain biker taking advantage of Playground Wales. Or maybe you’ll be stopped from going any further by a gang of hippies opposed to capitalism and private property . . . unless it’s theirs. And all because as a matter of ‘Welsh’ Government policy our woodlands are being surrendered to enviroshysters and ‘the leisure industry’.

Now I could put up with restricted access if our woods and forests were productive, providing the thousands of local jobs of which they’re capable. But no, Natural Resources Wales sees our woodlands as areas of recreation, and itself as an extension of the tourism industry. And through the Welsh public purse we pay for it all!

There is probably no country on earth where so much public money is spent with so few benefits for the indigenous population. But as I say, that’s how colonialism operates.

Sep 172016
 

‘BESPOKE ACTIVITY SESSIONS’

I am indebted to Brychan, a regular visitor to this blog, for drawing my attention to another example of misguided do-gooding, this time linking with enviroshysters and the ‘heritage’ racket – yea! even unto the Strata Florida Trust! (You couldn’t make this up!)

We start in the Elan Valley, the collective name for a number of reservoirs vaguely south east of Aberystwyth that supply fresh water to Birmingham. Built in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century these reservoirs occupy land much of which was compulsorily purchased.

But let’s not be negative, for as the Elan valley website tells us, “The choice of the Elan Valley as the source of Birmingham’s future water supplies was to lead to the creation of a spectacular new landscape in mid-Wales.” (Who writes this patronising crap!)

elan-lakes

“The Elan Estate is owned by Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water although a greater part of it is vested in the Elan Valley Trust on a 999 year lease.” Does Dŵr Cymru own the reservoirs and dams or just the land surrounding them? Either way, the water goes to Brum for free.

From what I can see, the Elan Valley Estate is a tourist playground doubling up as a nature reserve. But the estate also runs ‘courses’ for superannuated hippies and others who have washed up in Wales. Now it’s branching out.

Some of these courses are run by an outfit called Tir Coed, which describes itself as ” . . . a charity and social enterprise that engages people with woodlands through volunteering, training and bespoke activities that develop skills and improve woodlands for the benefit of everyone”. The kind of gibberish I encounter all the time, dreamt up to justify the existence of a group and, more importantly, its funding.

Here’s a screen capture from the Tir Coed Charity Commission page. We shall refer to this later.

tir-coed-charity-commission

The project to which I want to draw your attention is something called Elan Gives Back, the premise of which is so unutterably colonialist that you’ll have trouble believing it, but just bear with me.

Last month, representatives of Tir Coed, acting for the Elan Valley Estate, visited Birmingham ” . . . explaining how the project would like to reconnect the people of Birmingham with their water source . . . before explaining about the weekend retreats and bespoke activity sessions in the Elan Valley available through Elan Gives Back.” Read it for yourself.

(‘Bespoke activity sessions! Bloody hell! I know people who’ve been done for offering that sort of thing.)

If this venture is a ‘success’, then we can expect to see Brummie drug addicts, petty criminals and others having a jolly old time on the Elan Valley Estate. And at our expense, because of course Tir Coed, being a charity and a social enterprise, relies almost exclusively on grant funding.

The biggest single funder for year ending March 31 2015 was the Big Lottery Fund, which coughed up £82,783; but in there with other grants we see the Countryside Council for Wales, £35,000; Natural Resources Wales, £20,000; Llanidloes Town Council, £3,000; and Jobs Growth Wales, £11,276.

The only way I can interpret Elan Gives Back is that someone, somewhere, believes the area owes Birmingham something. But, surely, Birmingham, responsible for the enforced eviction of the area’s population, and the subsequent exploitation of Welsh resources, owes us. If Liverpool can apologise for Tryweryn then why can’t Birmingham apologise for Elan?

And if that is the thinking behind it, then what twisted colonialist mind could have dreamed up Elan Gives Back?

Finally, we need to consider what it says on the Charity Commission website, shown in the screen capture I referred you to earlier. Tir Coed’s stipulated ‘Area of Benefit’ is Wales. Birmingham is not in Wales, and I object strongly to public funding, much of it Welsh, being used to give bespoke weekends in the Welsh countryside to Brummie ne’er-do-wells. I further object to this being done as some kind of ‘apology’ for them having to drink our water!

Someone, maybe the Charity Commission, or the funders, needs to investigate this bollocks.

LINKS AND COINCIDENCES

Take yourself back to the Charity Commission website for Tir Coed and click on the box ‘Contact & trustees’ (on the left), you’ll bring up a list of trustees. Top of that list is a ‘Mr J Wildig’.

Wildig is also a trustee of the Plynlimon Heritage Trust (note the corrupted spelling of Pumlumon) and also Ymddiriedolaeth Yr Hafod Hafod Trust.

In fairness, the first of those seems to have raked in very little money and is now almost defunct, but give it its due, it used the tried and tested method, even the descriptive template, “The Trust enables work on heritage projects within the Ceredigion uplands”.

The second of Wildig’s trusts is connected with the Hafod Estate near Cwmystwyth. He is also a director of Pentir Pumlumon Cyf, which markets the area to tourists, while of course giving plugs to various trusts, such as Strata Florida, which is ‘flagged’ on its interactive ‘attractions’ map.

The Hafod Estate is managed by Natural Resources Wales “in partnership with the Hafod Trust”. It’s noticeable how many of the ‘trusts’ and individuals this blog has looked at recently work with NRW.

hawthorn-cottage

Hawthorn Cottage, available for rent on the Hafod Estate

When talking of 19th century mining operations the Pentir Pumlumon website is keen to remind us that “Miners migrated to the area from Cornwall, Yorkshire, and elsewhere: their names can be found on gravestones in country churchyards and some of their descendants are here still”. Stressing a long-standing English (and Cornish) presence in the area seems to have been important for whoever wrote that.

Sites like this, written by English people trying to describe a country of which they have no real understanding beyond its perceived potential to benefit them; and for which they have little appreciation beyond the visual, the scenic, remind me of those 19th century posters encouraging English settlement in some benighted corner of the empire where the natives had recently been quelled.

Also involved with the Plynlimon Heritage Trust is Jennifer Jill Macve, whose name crops up a number of times in connection with Wildig. Macve is also a trustee of the Welsh Historic Gardens Trust where, again, you’ll struggle to find any Welsh involvement.

Before bidding the omnipresent J Wildig adieu it should surprise no one to learn that he is also a trustee of the Strata Florida Trust, the body you’ve read about on this blog over recent weeks. (If you haven’t, then read Ystrad Fflur – The Heritage Industry Moves On and Conserving Heritage, Maintaining Colonialism.)

To make sense of the plethora of ‘heritage’ and ‘preservation’ trusts that have sprung up in Wales during the past couple of decades it might help if you visit the website for the United Kingdom Association of Preservation Trusts (APT). Here’s the APT’s Wales page.

The screen capture below explains it all. There was a development officer in Wales 2004 – 2008, and “over a third of Trusts in Wales were formed in the past seven years”. And to cheer you up even more, “There are also examples of Trusts still being formed, such as the Welsh Georgian Building Trust, and the Llanelli Goods Trust.” (I suspect there might be Welsh involvement in the latter, but not the former.)

apt-wales

HEADING SOUTH

If we go back for a sec to the Tir Coed website, and look at the ‘Contact’ page, then we see that it offers three addresses. One is presumably its HQ in Aberystwyth. Another is its Elan operation, where it ‘Gives Back’ bespoke weekends, and the third is Denmark Farm, Betws Bledrws, near Lampeter.

So now you’re wondering what denizens of that parallel universe sustained by grants await at Denmark Farm. You will not be disappointed. (Oh, yes, before any of you narrow-minded nationalists think the name has been changed, it was always Denmark Farm. Explained here.)

As is the way with these things, Denmark Farm is not just any old farm, run by primitive Welshies who keep animals and grow crops. No, sir, this is a conservation centre, offering eco-friendly holidays, nature trails and, yes – courses!

Confusingly – but not for old Jac! – this lot are registered with the Charity Commission as the Shared Earth Trust. Though the CC website tells us that income is falling, down from £135,000 in 2012 to a mere £45,000 in 2015.

A correspondingly sombre picture is to be found on the Companies House website, with the most recent accounts available (y/e 31.03.2015) informing us that this venture has tangible assets (almost certainly the farm buildings and land) of £310,666 (£324,991 in 2014). Yet ‘total assets less current liabilities’ brings that figure down to £258,346 (£277,418 in 2014). Denmark Farm is in trouble, perhaps it will soon be recycled.

Companies House also tells us there are charges against Denmark Farm. First there’s the mortgage of £170,000 with the Ecology Building Society of West Yorkshire. Then, on the same date, 25.07.2012, there was a loan of £25,000 made by the trustees of the Shared Earth Trust to the Denmark Farm Conservation Centre.

So who’s running things? Well, the three individuals who are both trustees of the Shared Earth Trust and directors of Denmark Farm Conservation Centre are Guy Alistair Hopwood, who lives at Denmark Farm, David Andrew Bradford Smith of Llandrindod, and Glenn Edward Strachan of Penuwch.

denmark-farm-activities

The staff at Denmark Farm – apart from one who seems to be married to a real farmer, living on a real farm – are the usual crew of ecocharlatans. Reading their potted bios reminds us how many silly little projects there are out there.

Take Gary Thorogood, who “moved to this part of Wales with his family 9 years ago after retiring from the Fire Service in London.” His bio mentions his involvement with the Lampeter Permaculture Group and Transition Lambed. (Don’t say you haven’t heard of them!)

Then there’s Mara Morris who lives with chickens, which I suppose is one way of guaranteeing fresh eggs. Next up is James Kendall, ” . . . responsible for procuring external funding so that we can maintain and increase our staffing resource, deliver engaging projects and develop the Shared Earth Trust membership”. The Accounts I’ve quoted would suggest that Kendall is not doing very well as a fund-raiser.

But in fairness, maybe he’s too busy with the Long Wood Community Woodland, where he serves as project manager. “He also works as a Forest School leader(?), woodland skills tutor and runs an outdoor after-school club, Young Rangers.”

Companies House also tells us there is a charge against Long Wood Community Farm. The mortgagee is the Big Lottery Fund and the property is described as “all that freehold property known as land at Long Wood, Llangybi, Lampeter registered at H M Land Registry under title numbers CYM271065, CYM271131, CYM270610”.

What becomes clear when we look into these projects, whether they are heritage and conservation, environment, or even social enterprises and community benefit companies, is that they are not businesses a bank would lend money to for the very simple reason that they are just not viable businesses. So they have to rely on grant funding.

Because they are not financially viable they invariably fail, which results in funding that could be better used being wasted. Those involved in such failures often re-form, take on a new name, and wait for the grant-giving agencies to come up with new funding streams and priorities. It’s a merry-go-round.

Those involved are simply indulging a private passion at public expense, there is no public benefit whatsoever . . . unless of course, you include the ‘courses’ and the ‘bespoke activity sessions’, which are not intended for the likes of us.

What I found interesting in writing this post is that, in J Wildig, we have unearthed a link between the environmental, the social enterprise, and the heritage sectors. Looking beyond this individual there are other linkages and overlaps to be found.

What is also clear is that many of these grant-grabbing groups are located in Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire, spilling over into neighbouring local authority areas. Suggesting that these two councils offer encouragement; but the major funders remain the ‘Welsh’ Government, in its various guises, and assorted Lottery funding streams.

Everywhere I look in the environmental lobby I see hypocrisy and contradictions. Perhaps the most glaring is the commitment to ‘Nature’ . . . discredited by the belief that Nature would be lost without them managing it.

George Monbiot and others talk of wanting to ‘re-wild’ large tracts of Wales, yet if they were allowed their way they’d produce little more than a manicured woodland where everything down to the last fungus would have its allotted place. They want to play God.

george-monbiot

This sylvan idyll of overbearingly managed ‘wilderness’ would of course provide many jobs and businesses for the kind of people we’ve met in recent posts. Almost all funded from the public purse.

They’d offer courses in yurt construction and other ‘traditional’ crafts. James Kendall could bring his Young Rangers from the Long Wood. With weekend retreats and bespoke activity sessions so that we could fulsomely apologise to Brummies, Scousers, and all the others we’ve wronged. And of course there’d be the tourists. Combining to give us wildlife-free woods constantly ringing to the sound of human voices . . . none of them Welsh.

My idea of re-wilding would be to set aside an area of land and take human beings out of the picture entirely (especially those I’ve been writing about). Let Nature reclaim the land, naturally, as it did when the last ice retreated. Anything else is just a veiled attack on Welsh farming and a scam to milk the public purse.

Fortunately, the figures tell us the funding is drying up, and now, with Brexit, things can only get better. Let’s hope that the ‘Welsh’ Government, the Big Lottery Fund and others come to their senses and free us from heritage racket con men (and women), enviroshysters and all the rest.

UPDATE: I am informed that Monbiot has departed whence he came. That probably accounts for the sounds of raucous celebration that has been reported emanating from local farmhouses.

END

Early on the morrow, Mrs J and I are off to the Old North. I shall be back next weekend. But keep sending in your comments, for Big Gee is in charge as moderator.

Jul 032016
 

I don’t think I’ve ever done this before (as the actress said to the bishop), but this post is all about another post, on a faraway blog I was unaware of until a couple of days ago. To explain.

I received an e-mail from an anonymous source providing a link to a blog post said source thought might interest me. It certainly did, though I have to admit that the subject matter was beyond my normal interests.

Essentially, the story is about the deliberate poisoning of hawks and ravens on the Glanusk Estate using Bendiocarb, all done to protect the ‘game birds’ reared there. These have been ‘protected’ from their natural predators in order that they might be killed by Hoorays paying handsomely for the privilege.

Mark Coleman rates

killing birds don’t come cheap

Apart from the obvious wildlife crimes there are also safety concerns for those visiting the estate and, perhaps especially, those attending the Green Man Festival held there in August.

Before going any further I suggest you read the article I’m talking about. It’s to be found on the Raptor Persecution Scotland website and the post Mass Raptor Poisoning in Wales: Location Revealed.

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The facts, certainly those that jumped out at me, are as follows:

1/ The poisonings took place in 2012/13 and the birds killed were ravens, buzzards and red kites, the latter having become almost the national bird of Wales since its recovery from near extinction was engineered in central Wales.

2/ As stated, the killings were committed on the Glanusk Estate of the Legge-Bourke family near Crughywel. I quote from the Raptor Persecution Scotland website:

Shan Legge-Bourke was appointed lady-in-waiting to Princess Anne in 1987, was High Sheriff of Powys in 1991, has been the Lord Lieutenant of Powys (the Queen’s personal representative) since 1998 and became Dame Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in the 2015 New Year Honours.

Shan Legge-Bourke’s daughter, Tiggy Legge-Bourke, was nanny to Princes William & Harry and worked as a personal assistant to Prince Charles between 1993-1999.

Shan Legge-Bourke’s son, Harry Legge-Bourke, is a partner in the management of Glanusk Estate and served on the Board of Natural Resources Wales (the Welsh statutory conservation agency) between 2012-2015 (the same time the mass poisoning of raptors was taking place on Glanusk Estate).”

3/ The ‘sport shooting’ element of the estate’s business is run by Mark Coleman Sporting & Game which also has involvement with the Stoke Edith estate just over the border in Herefordshire.

Though it’s not clear exactly what the arrangement is between Coleman and the owners of either estate. Is he employed directly? Does he lease land at Glanusk? While his relationship with the estate may be opaque the article I’m using as my source says that the gamekeepers are employed by Mark Coleman. Again, I quote from the original piece:

“Stoke Edith is a close neighbour of the Sufton Estate. Some of you may recognise that name. In 2010, an under-gamekeeper from the Sufton Estate was convicted of 17 wildlife crime offences, including the use of Bendiocarb to poison raptors (see here, page 25). In the same year, the Sufton Estate Head gamekeeper was convicted of running a cannabis factory on the estate and was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment (see here).

Amazingly, according to this article published in Fieldsports magazine: glanusk fieldsport article-1, the Head gamekeeper now at Glanusk Estate, employed by Mark Coleman, is someone with the same name as that convicted Head gamekeeper from Sufton Estate. Imagine that! It surely can’t be the same person, because, as we’re so often told, criminal gamekeepers are not tolerated by the shooting industry, right?

But Mark Coleman employs another gamekeeper who also has a familiar name. According to this Fieldsports magazine article: stoke edith fieldsport article-1, a gamekeeper employed by Mark Coleman on the Stoke Edith Estate shares the same name as a gamekeeper convicted of killing raptors and badgers on a shooting estate in Herefordshire in 2008. Imagine that! It surely can’t be the same person, because, as we’re so often told, criminal gamekeepers are not tolerated by the shooting industry, right?”

Mark Coleman

I think it’s important to know the relationships between the Glanusk Estate and Mark Coleman if we are to establish the chain of responsibility and culpability. According to the panel above, taken from the Glanusk website, the shoot has been “passed” to Mark Coleman, but what the hell does that mean? I guarantee he doesn’t own the land.

UPDATE 04.07.2016: I am indebted to ‘STaN’ at the Neath Ferret for drawing my attention to the fact that Mark Coleman’s company is not in the best of financial health. The company’s net worth is over three hundred thousand pounds the wrong side of zero. Read the latest accounts for yourself.

4/ There was a statement put out by Dyfed Powys Police in March which read:

“Dyfed Powys Police take allegations of wildlife crime very seriously and investigates all incidents reported to us. Following information received in 2012 and 2013, relating to the deaths of raptors in Powys, a full investigation was carried out in partnership with the RSPB, the National Wildlife Crime Unit and the Wildlife Management Team in the Welsh Government. During the investigation a number of search warrants under the Wildlife and Countryside Act were executed and two people were arrested in connection with the incidents. A file of evidence was subsequently submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service who advised that there was insufficient evidence to proceed with a prosecution.”

This statement claims that arrests were made but the Crown Prosecution Service decided against proceeding with a prosecution. We can only speculate as to why there was no prosecution.

5/ Irrespective of whether there were prosecutions there can be no doubt that crimes were committed, so why has the ‘Welsh’ media remained silent over “the most significant wildlife poisoning incident in Wales”, according to the RSPB? Would our hawk-eyed and diligent journos ignore a murder because there had not yet been a prosecution?

6/ And what of the ‘Welsh’ Government? Apart from doling out grants it doesn’t seem to take a great deal of interest in the Glanusk Estate. Grant funding in which Natural Resources Wales is involved, the same Natural Resources Wales of which Harry Legge-Bourke was a Board Member.

Otherwise, Harry seems to be involved in the world of intelligence and security, with the Chelsea GroupBox-It and something given on his LinkedIn profile as Seven Partners, a name under which I can find nothing other than this company in Lyon. He seems to be cashing in on the rise in global terrorism and concerns for security . . . for which shooting some of the stupidest creatures known to Nature may be ideal preparation. (Myself, I prefer fish in barrels.)

Dyfed Powys

Soon after the original post was published the Glanusk Estate made a statement that you can find here, accompanied by a pretty comprehensive demolition by Raptor Persecution UK.

The Estate obviously felt they hadn’t said enough because a further statement was issued on July 3rd. Here it is, again with a robust response from RPUK. In this statement blame for the poisonings is attributed to “a third party” and assures us that there was never any risk to public health.

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To sum up . . .

First off, you mustn’t think there’s anything unusual – other than the scale – about the poisonings at Glanusk, they happen all the time. That’s because there’s serious money in shooting game birds, and wherever we find an area of human activity where there’s big money to be made we’ll find persons ready to cut corners and break the law.

The reason for my interest in this case is due to the status and connections of those involved and the responses, or rather, the total disinterest, of officialdom and others.

Now I am not for one minute suggesting that any member of the Legge-Bourke family laid poison to kill hawks and ravens. And I believe it’s perfectly possible for these crimes to have taken place on their land without their knowing. I suggest we need to start our search for the guilty parties lower down the food chain, with those who had both the motive and the opportunity.

But I am not suggesting that Mark Coleman himself laid poison to kill raptors or carrion feeders. I use the term ‘carrion feeders’ because a poisoned pheasant or raven could become food for badgers, foxes and smaller animals, perhaps even a domestic cat. Poisoning is indiscriminate.

pheasants

But what of those gamekeepers we are told already had police records over the border and, according to Raptor Persecution UK, were brought to Glanusk by Mark Coleman? Would it be reasonable to assume that these were the two arrested by Dyfed Powys Police? Though it may be significant that the police statement makes no mention of them actually being charged.

Do these gamekeepers still work on the Glanusk Estate?

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Even though the Legge-Bourkes didn’t lay any poison they are the indirect beneficiaries of that act because whoever did it acted to protect the shooting run by Mark Coleman who, we can be sure, pays the family a tidy sum to arrange his £11,000+ a day shooting parties.

The poisonings being first noticed in 2012 suggests they may have been done to ensure the successful launch of the venture after shooting re-started at Glanusk in 2010. Also significant may be that Glanusk offers mainly driven pheasant shooting, with limited ‘walk up’ grouse on offer; yet it is suggested that the hope is to expand the enterprise to a driven grouse venture (the only one in Wales). This would allow Mark Coleman to charge his punters even more. And as I said earlier, we are talking big bucks here.

So even though I am not for one minute suggesting that Mark Coleman laid down poison, he too would have benefited indirectly from greater numbers of birds surviving natural predators for him to offer to high-paying shooters.

Then there are other considerations, such as visitors who come and stay but not for the shooting. And how can we ignore the Green Man Festival, which must be another nice little earner for the Legge-Bourkes, and great publicity for Glanusk. Yet this is the kind of event attended by hippies and Greens. (My kind of people!) I can imagine some malodorous and dreadlocked shit-stirrer starting an online petition to move the Festival somewhere else if these killings of buzzards, ravens and red kites had received the publicity they deserved.

The simple and inescapable fact is that a prosecution, and the resultant publicity, could have cost the Glanusk Estate, and the well-connected Legge-Bourke family, a great deal of money. This is why there was no prosecution.

This case is a damning indictment of Wales in 2016. We have a Labour government down Cardiff docks telling us it’s fighting for ‘equality’ and practicing ‘openness’ and yet here we have an example of privilege, deference and feudalism straight out of the medieval period.

If a story about the killing of birds can be kept out of the public domain to protect persons with connections to the English royals what else is being kept from us?

P.S There’s more to come on this story so I suggest you keep up with developments on the website  https://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/

 

Oct 062015
 

GREENWOOD FOREST PARK

Last Saturday, overcome with an uncharacteristic bout of generosity, I took a couple of grandchildren (plus wife, to look after them) on a day out to the Greenwood Forest Park near Caernarfon. Obviously an ancient Welsh name for the area, to be compared with Oakwood, and Folly Farm, and Plonkers’ Playground. Whereas along the coast, we invariably find ‘Sands’ in the name, so as to make it clear to even the stupidest potential visitor that these places are near to the sea: Golden Sands, Sunny Sands, Happy Sands, et-bloody-cetera.

For what it is, a few slides, some sorry-looking rabbits, pedal ‘go-karts’, one small roller coaster, archery and donkey rides, I suppose Greenwood is OK. But I couldn’t help but notice there seemed to be no locals employed there. Or let me put it this way, I don’t doubt that those working there live locally – they must do – but I didn’t hear one local accent. And let’s remember we’re a few miles outside Caernarfon, near the village of Bethel where, until very recently, everyone spoke Welsh. (Though, chwarae teg, all signs were bilingual, so that would satisfy Cymdeithas yr Iaith . . . if that organisation still exists.)

As you might expect, I made a few enquiries about Greenwood. It’s owned by husband and wife Stephen and Andrea Bristow and seems to be quite healthy, in financial terms. Which may not be surprising, given some of the grants Greenwood has received. For example £25,000 from the ‘Welsh’ Government’s Tourism Investment Support Scheme (TISS) for signage (without which perhaps the signs would have been in English only). Greenwood is now lined up for another grant from the TISS, this time for £250,000, for a few more slides.

Tourism Investment Support Scheme

I don’t know about you, but 311 jobs claimed by the ‘Welsh’ Government as the dividend for an investment of fourteen million pounds seems like a pretty poor return. Especially when not all of the 311 were new jobs, some were ‘safeguarded’; in other words, they were jobs already in existence that we must believe would have been lost without this investment. Either way, it works out at around £45,000 per job.

And remember, this being Wales, there are probably other funding pots claiming to have created or ‘safeguarded’ the very same jobs. Also remember that we’re discussing tourism, so many of the jobs created / ‘safeguarded’ will be seasonal . . . but you aren’t supposed to know that, so forget I mentioned it.

In 2013 Greenwood was ranked the ninth most popular (paid for) attraction in Wales, and a year later it saw 146,000 visitors. Divide 146,000 by 365 and you get 400 a day, and it’s not much more impressive if you go for a six-month ‘season’ giving 800 visitors a day. But then, there’s always the grants.

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COED Y BRENIN

On the way home from Greenwood we stopped at the visitor centre in Coed-y-Brenin, north of Dolgellau.

There was obviously some kind of mountain biking event being held because the place was full of mud-caked hearties and fitness fascists; nothing but rippling calf muscles and machines the cost of which could support a family of Andean peasants for a lifetime (and put the eldest boy through college). Conspicuous consumption was everywhere, from the fancy motors with the bicycle racks on the back to the £200 shades. But that wasn’t the only reason I felt a little uncomfortable, for it soon dawned on me that our family group might be the only Welsh people there . . . in the heart of Meirionnydd.

I later learnt that the event was the Trek Coed y Brenin Enduro, and although the results do not use the ‘Country’ column a quick glance through the names suggests that Welsh participation was minimal. I further suspect the event into which I stumbled was organised by Mountain Biking Wales or possibly Dyfi Events. Though the Coed y Brenin forest, and indeed the visitor centre, is owned by Natural Resources Wales, and therefore all paid for out of the Welsh public purse.

Coed y Brenin and Greenwood are examples of the ‘Playground Wales’ phenomenon that sees indecently large amounts of Welsh public funding used to encourage strangers to see our homeland as nothing more than their playground; an arrangement for which we pay, but from which we derive little if any benefit.

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WHOSE COUNTRY IS THIS?

Don’t misunderstand me, there is little intrinsically wrong with responsible tourism from which the indigenous population benefits without it being overwhelmed or having its environment degraded. But in Wales we have the worst kind of exploitive and damaging tourism, one that interprets people queuing to climb Snowdon as a tribute to the ‘success’ of Welsh tourism rather than a warning of impending environmental disaster.

That’s because no one will concede there might be a limit to the number of tourists Wales can comfortably cope with, which in turn is partly due to the fact that the money tourists spend here works its way back to England, unlike money spent by English tourists overseas. So the more the merrier, and sod the consequences!

As if that wasn’t enough to worry about, what we experience in Wales is to all intents and purposes English tourism. Most of the businesses taking the money are English owned, most of those employed are English, the vast majority of the visitors are English and, as I’ve already said, the money they spend in Wales will make its way back to England in VAT and other taxes, utility bills, payments to suppliers, etc., etc.

The extent of how ugly, alien and exploitive tourism in Wales has become is laid bare by people like Chris Osborne, chair of the Wales Tourism Alliance. Osborne, like many of the English running tourism businesses in Wales, believes that if all towns and villages, mountains and rivers, had English names then people like him could make even more money. To put it as he did in this article, Wales should have “accessible names” and “accessible messages”. (Fair enough. How about, ‘Fuck off, you arrogant, colonialist bastard!’. Is that “accessible” enough?)

Playground Wales

It might be comforting if Chris Osborne was an isolated example of those involved in tourism who view Welshness, and indeed Welsh people, as an obstacle to them exploiting Wales. But he appears to be the authentic and unadulterated voice of ‘Welsh’ tourism.

To prove the point, here’s another star performer. Back in July Irene Laird, who has imposed herself on Rhosgadfan, near Caernarfon, was found guilty of racially-aggravated assault and racially-aggravated threatening behaviour, for calling a local woman a “Welsh c—“. The report can be found here. The bit that really struck me was that, ‘when the racial abuse was mentioned by a probation officer to Laird “there was no recognition such behaviour was inappropriate and no element of remorse”’! That is very, very revealing.

That tirade would have been bad enough in any circumstances, but this woman, with her husband, runs a tourism business, Welsh Dragon Tours – which seems to be still in business! (I wonder if they’ve had any grant funding?) When you’re on their website, check out the ‘Testimonials’. They are all from untraceable overseas visitors, with not one from these islands, which set my bullshit sensors all a-quiver.

Here’s a sample: “Ten out of Ten for Everything. Mrs A, Tel Aviv, Israel”. “The scenery was stunning!  Thank you very, very much for all the attention given us over those 4 days. Miss M, Malta.” “Thank you very much for showing us around your wonderful scenic country. Mrs F, Yokohama, Japan.” I suspect that in addition to being an anti-Welsh bigot this woman might also be a falsifier of testimonials. Pins and maps come to mind.

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‘IT’S OUR WALES NOW’

What we see with Osborne, Laird and others is them trying to promote tourism as if Wales was just a scenic part of England. Welsh people, the Welsh language, Welsh place names and other manifestations of a separate identity expose the fact that it is not, and it also exposes them for the interlopers they are. This goes a long way to explaining why these people are hostile to expressions of Welsh identity, and this hostility takes a number of forms.

A few years ago, while sauntering along Tywyn promenade (I enjoy a good saunter), I noticed that one flagpole was, as usual, flying the union flag, but the other, where the Welsh flag had been, now flew a yellow and blue flag carrying what looked to be a fish and a bird. I made enquiries and learnt that new flag was that of Tywyn, and had been dreamed up by local businessman and infamous Britlander Mike Stevens, in his self-appointed role as driving force of the Tywyn Chamber of Tourism and Commerce. There was a bit of a kerfuffle, and the Welsh flag was restored.

Stevens argued that his sole motivation in designing a new flag was to represent and promote the town. Not, as some unkind souls might suggest, an excuse to get rid of the Dragon. But the boy got form for oblique attacks on things Welsh. In this incident, Cyngor Gwynedd quite rightly placed warning signs on Tywyn’s new sea defence island.Cadfan's stone Stevens doesn’t like bilingual signs, but he can’t say that, so he has to make himself look silly with contrived and implausible complaints.

Mike Stevens is now a county councillor, elected by those that tourism has encouraged to settle in Tywyn, to the point where they now make up a majority of the population. A picture replicated across ‘tourist’ Wales.

Around Tywyn now you will see another flag, made up of a rising sun and some goats, said to be the flag of Meirionnydd. Predictably it is favoured by those who have no concept of, and no roots in, Meirionnydd. It’s just another excuse – like the Pembrokeshire flag and others – to avoid flying the national flag of Wales.

In defending his contrived banner Stevens argued that the raven it carried was the “historic emblem of Tywyn“. In fact, the Raven belongs to the Anglo-Norman Corbet(t) family, but in the local church you will see, on St. Cadfan’s stone (see panel on right), the oldest example of written Welsh, possibly from the 7th century. Much older than any Corbet(t) connection, but of course it’s Welsh, and therefore of no interest to Stevens and his ilk.

You mustn’t think that this ugly attitude to all things Welsh, this belief that rural and coastal Wales was a desert ere the arrival of the English tourist, is confined to people like Ukip-leaning Mike Stevens, for this prejudice infects others. Brought home to me a couple of years back in an exchange of letters in the Cambrian News with a Greenie named Andrew Currie, who wrote, “He (moi!) has also missed the fact that coastal towns and villages came into being because of tourism in Victorian times.” My response to Currie was not published, but you can read it here.

What a frightening and insulting mindset we see exposed here. It is nothing less than the traditional justification for colonialism, along the lines of, ‘Well, yes, there were natives living here before we arrived but the silly buggers couldn’t do anything for themselves, and now they wouldn’t be able to manage without us’.

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TOURISM OR WELSHNESS? YOU CAN’T HAVE BOTH

For some 50 years we Welsh have been subjected to one of the most sustained and successful propaganda offensives in history. We have been brainwashed into accepting that tourism is the economic salvation of the greater part of Wales, that we Welsh derive huge benefits from tourism, and that there are no downsides whatsoever. I think it’s time we woke up to reality.

Tourism as practised in Wales is nothing but colonialist exploitation. People from a neighbouring country come to exploit our country, and not wishing to be reminded of our existence, or their position as incomers, they seek to deny and destroy what is indigenous in order to promote a sanitised and more “accessible” West Anglia. Not only do those claiming to represent us welcome this exploitation, this discrimination, this ‘cleansing’, they are even prepared to fund it!

name change 1

The very survival of Welsh identity is jeopardised by tourism and the influx it encourages. Consequently, Wales needs a national debate on tourism. A debate informed by facts and independent research, not more propaganda from the tourism industry’s sponsored academics. If we are denied that debate then we must decide how we defend ourselves against this threat. For it is the greatest, the most serious threat, the Welsh nation has ever faced.

Jul 142014
 

As someone who, in his younger days, collected ‘pets’ from the ponds and waste ground of north Swansea, I have always taken an interest in wildlife, and indeed (in the phase that followed the pet collecting) wild life. Many a carefree boyhood hour was spent catching grass snakes, collecting newts, and sneaking up on lizards to attempt that perfect catch – on the body (for they detach their tails) but not so roughly as to harm them. Or it waCBMWCs summers in Port Eynon crabbing and observing the life of the shoreline and the rock pools.

So I was naturally drawn to the story of porpoises killing dolphins in Cardigan Bay. Reading it I learnt that this behaviour has been observed by volunteers at the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre in New Quay. So – you know me – wanting to learn more about this outfit I went to the CBMWC website.

The website – entirely in English, of course – is quite open about what it does, who funds it, and who runs it. The volunteers for 2014 include Milly, “part of a big, outdoorsy family” (not them Swansea dossers again?). Lea, who “grew up in the Swiss countryside”. Abigail from Worcester who has “attended a dormouse survey training day”. (Something of which I can only dream.) Rebecca, who “spent holidays in Corwall and Wales”. Then there’s Josephine from Manchester, Gaby from Canada, Ashleigh from “the Midlands”, Sophie from Suffolk, Will from West Yorkshire, even one or two (out of 17) who may even be Welsh. Among “the CBMWC Team” (of 14) there is one who seems to be Welsh, then there’s Barry the wino, a host of ‘locals’ who’ve all moved to Wales, and young Ben, who grew up on the East African Coast. (Of course he’s not bleck, don’t be silly!) It’s all so frightfully English that they could have stepped from the pages of some Enid Blyton tale of middle class youngsters having a jolly good time in darkest Wales.

Before anyone says that these people do good work, or are no harm to anyone; and that I am a wicked old nationalist for picking on them, just remember this. The Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre and its allies among the Fleece Jacket Fascists form a lobby that – among other things – would like to extend conservation zones around our coasts, putting Welsh people out of work so that they can enjoy their hobby jobs pursue vital marine research. In fact, they would like to turn rural and coastal Wales into one big playground for them and their friends. With no Welsh involvement . . . well, other than funding.

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fleece jacketThe CBMWC is some kind of subsidiary of the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales (WTSWW), so this was my next stop. Another packed, informative website . . . until you try to find out who actually runs the show. For while the website gives a link to the names of the Trustees I could find nothing to tell me who is responsible for the day to day running of the Trust. A major omission. Especially as the Trust receives funding from The National Lottery, the People’s Postcode Lottery, and two lots of funding from the EU, via the Wales Co-operative Centre and the Wales European Funding Office. Is it lawful for an organisation receiving EU funding to withhold from the public the names of its management? It should go without saying that the WTSWW website is also in English only.

Returning to New Quay for a moment (to where, incidentally, I can trace a paternal great-grandmother and a maternal great-great-grandfather), the CBMWC website tells us that the Centre is “funded by grants from Environment Wales (EW) and Natural Resources Wales” (NRW) (of Alun Davies fame). Environment Wales is a hotch-potch of Englandandwales fleece jacket gangs feeding at a trough topped up by the ‘Welsh’ Government, almost certainly with EU cash. But I was unable to find the dolphin watchers or their parent outfit listed among the grant recipients or the ‘Registered Project Links’. And, again, no clue given as to who runs Environment Wales. The picture was no better with Natural Resources Wales. The website contains no mention of grants, and doesn’t even offer a way of sending an e-mail or ‘phoning, for contact is limited to social media! Can it be right that a member of the public is unable to contact an organisation supported by EU funding?

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Every area of the country has groups like the CBMWC, some national, others local: in Wales, but not of Wales. Existing as exclusive ex-pat outposts of the kind the English form in Spain and elsewhere. Social, cultural and financial impositions that we had better start challenging before they become dominant; to the point where it becomes impossible to walk on a Welsh hill, or through a Welsh wood; swim off a Welsh beach, or visit some site important in our history, because it’s now owned and run by strangers – with funding provided by our government!

Appeals to the emotions aside, the real issue here is about hard cash, and how it’s used. About the waste of public funding on hobby jobs, for which the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre merely serves as an example. The CBMWC obviously attracts the well-heeled from England and beyond, but would anyone in Penrhiwceiber or Penygroes notice if the CBMWC closed tomorrow? Of course not, but EU funding was given to improve the lives of people in communities such as these. So henceforth, if the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre can survive on selling ice cream and fluffy dolphins, boat trips and donations, then fine, but no more public funding for it or any similar organisations.

The next round of EU funding must not be wasted on ephemeral and unnecessary projects simply because they generate good publicity; it must not be squandered on politically correct scams; it must not be spent on encouraging the Third Sector to make an industry of poverty and deprivation. Any application for funding should be asked one simple question: ‘Will there be direct and tangible benefits for Welsh people in terms of jobs, education and training, community benefits, social and cultural cohesion and other fields?’ Supporting projects that fail this test is merely funding colonisation.

Aug 012013
 

This year saw a heated debate that most Welsh people would have been unaware was even taking place; not surprising seeing as it was about Marine Conservation Zones in the north west. Eventually, the protests of commercial fishermen and others saw the ‘Welsh’ Government do a U-turn. These Zones had been proposed with the support of the Countryside Council for Wales, now subsumed into Natural Resources Wales, and the Marine Conservation Society. The first of those bodies is run by the ‘Welsh’ Government, while the other seems to be yet another in the unending list of Englandandwales outfits. (Remember all that talk of devolution? Do you think it will ever happen?)

At the other end of the country we have seen a remarkably similar story, with very similar groups (one, the same) opposing the plan for a motor racing circuit in Ebbw Vale: first it was The Gwent Wildlife Trust, then the Open Spaces Society got in on the act before, finally, our old friends, Natural Resources Wales piped up. I made my position on the Ebbw Vale project clear in this recent post, and I shall repeat it here. If this project can deliver real jobs to the Heads of the Valleys for Welsh people, then we must support it, and ignore the objections. But earlier this week we were told that the ‘Welsh’ Government had put the project ‘on hold’. Seeing as the Assembly is in recess this decision was almost certainly taken by civil servants. Given the background of so many top civil servants in Wales we should not be surprised to see them support protests from what are, essentially, middle class English groups. Their people.

What I now realise from these and other sources is that we have a burgeoning sector of ‘Welsh’ life that is usually alien in its composition, and often hostile to Welsh interests in its policies and attitudes. The fleece jacketmembers of this sector, found all over Wales, can be recognised by their distinctive ‘uniform’ of the fleece jacket. They can be found patrolling our National Parks and nature reserves; we may know them as ‘rangers’ or ‘guides’; they may be working for the National Trust, the RSPB, Woodland Trust, countless wildlife and archaeological trusts, etc., etc. Unless the Welsh language comes into play – as with the Snowdonia National Park – then the practice in the fleece jacket industry is to not employ locals.

How do they get away with it? Simple. In today’s carefully nurtured political and social climate, in which wicked humanity is destroying the planet, a serial killer would be forgiven if he was ‘protecting dolphins’, and Hitler himself could come back and be rehabilitated if he was saving the habitat of some rare and exquisite orchid. More practically, the fleeces always have friends in high places. One was Jane Davidson, Minister for Environment and Sustainability from 2007 to 2011. Among the policies Davidson wanted to introduce was that of opening all Welsh rivers, lakes and waterways to her canoeist friends. It is of course entirely coincidental that Jane Davidson is English, and went to a private school; as is the fact that upon leaving politics she became Director of the Wales Institute of Sustainability and a spokesperson for the Ramblers Association.

Let me end by addressing something some of you may be thinking – that I’ve gone OTT with my description of these people and, consequently, the title of this post. Well, in my defence I would ask you to ponder this. We now have in Wales an army of fleece-jacketed, dictatorial outsiders who view ‘Wales’ through the prism of the group they represent – the English middle class visitor or settler. Too many of this group regard Welsh people as a blot on ‘their’ landscape, marring ‘their’ idyll. They’re in Wales, uninvited, telling us what we can and cannot do. Much of what they do (and wish to do) is inimical to our best interests, yet they do not have a single democratic vote to justify the power they possess and the influence they exert. So what would you call them?

And I haven’t even mentioned the funding. For very often the ‘Welsh’ Government – i.e. you and me – is funding these people to work against Welsh interests so that Wales can be saved for them and their friends. What a bloody system!

Jun 172013
 

I don’t know how many of you are aware of this, but there’s a new £250m racetrack planned for Ebbw Vale, to be known as the Circuit of Wales. Promising to bring high tech, top-wage jobs; tens of thousands of high-spending visitors; and much more besides. All this promised by a company – the Heads of the Valleys Development Company – set up specifically and solely to deliver this project. I was unable to find a website in Ebbw Valethe name of HVDC so I assume this serves as the company’s website. So who’s behind the company?

Well, one of the founding directors is named as Peter Thomas. Is this ‘Peter the Pies’, the man behind that great Welsh success story, Cardiff Blues? Or is it Swansea’s Peter Thomas, who is obviously big in tyres? Either way or neither way, according to Company Check, Peter Thomas joined (set up?) the company on June 30th, 2011. Presumably with a Mr M. A. Carrick, who is listed as joining the Board on the same day. Though according to Company Check Peter Thomas left the Board roughly a year later, on July 13th, 2012.# Which appears to have left the company with just one director! Whatever, August 13th, 2012, saw four new Board Members appointed: Mr S. J. Kealey, Mr T. N. Murnane, Ms A. L. Lloyd-Carrick and Mr A. P. Woodbury. Can we assume that Ms Lloyd-Carrick is somehow related?

Oh, yes . . . perhaps I should have mentioned earlier that this exciting new Welsh venture has its global headquarters at The Coach House, 79 Mill Way, Grantchester, Cambridge CB3 9ND. (Yes, that is the Grantchester of Rupert Brooke fame: ‘Corner of a foreign field’ and all that.)

Let us return to the man who appears to have been the co-founder of the Heads of the Valleys Development Company / Circuit of Wales, M. A. Carrick. Not so long ago he was working for Merrill Lynch, which many people believe is more responsible for the current financial crisis than perhaps any other single company. In fact, he’s described as nothing less than ML’s “Managing Director and Global Head of infrastructure”. Carrick now plies his trade – whatever it might be – with Duet Asset Management, which, reassuringly, appears to specialise in hedge funds. But he also seems to run Aventa Capital Partners Ltd., which looks like another new company set up to promote, or capitalise on, the Ebbw Vale project. Listed with Carrick on the ‘Investment Committee’ of Aventa are Charles Grime and David Bates.

Another name I have unearthed in connection with this venture is Chris Herring, formerly of Honda Racing. Though he is not mentioned in the Company Check extract referred to above. Of those who are mentioned as joining the company in August 2012, information is sparse. Without, I admit, digging too deeply, I drew a complete blank with S. J. Kealey, T. N. Murnane and Ms A. L. Lloyd-Carrick. The search for A. P. Woodbury produced only this which might, or might not, be him.Neil and Glenys

One more name is worthy of mention in connection with this project . . . wait for it! – Neil Kinnock!!! Who is billed as the “Ambassador”. I don’t wish to appear cynical, or unkind (you know me!) – but any project needing Kinnochio to lend it “considerable credibility” is surely dead in the water. Though give him his due, he can still recognise a gravy train approaching, even one running on very expensive tyres.

Someone else plugging the project, sort of, was that famous Danish rugby international, Sebastian Barrett, writing for Click on Wales. Though he seemed to quickly lose interest in highly-tuned engines and soon started plugging the Cardiff city state and the planned Cardiff Metro system. So irrelevant had the Ebbw Vale project become to him that at one point he referred to the Circuit of Wales as the “Circle of Wales”! (What’s happened to the Institute of Welsh Affairs, it’s become just another mouthpiece for Cardiff?)

The reason I started writing this piece is that there is mounting opposition to the project from a particularly obnoxious sub-species of colon. You know who I mean, they’re always on the ‘Welsh’ News, fleece jackets and English accents; ‘Oh, you can’t do that!’ ‘Oh no, we oppose this’. All of them working for bodies funded by taxpayers, charity collections, old ladies’ legacies, EU or other funding. Dictatorial bastards who want to keep Wales unspoilt by jobs or prosperity, preserved in aspic for the English middle classes to which most of them belong. First, in November, it was the Gwent Wildlife Trust. Then in March the Open Spaces Society chipped in. Last week it was Natural Resources Wales. It begins to look co-ordinated on the part of those who ‘love’ Wales but don’t give a toss about the Welsh.

Weighing it all up, my position is as follows. If this project can deliver what it promises, primarily investment and well-paid jobs for local people, then I support it. But I have grave reservations as to whether it will deliver. Mainly because I have little faith in those behind it. I smell another Valleywood. So strong is the aroma that I would have expected ourCarrick wonderful Welsh Government to be asking many more questions about those behind a £250m project that will soon be asking for a hell of a lot of public funding. (Or does Kinnock’s involvement mean that this scheme gets nodded through?) I might also be worried by what appears to be the total lack of Welsh involvement. When does ‘outside investment’ become exploitation, colonialism? As for those objecting on what they allege to be environmental grounds . . . I’m sure you think you mean well, but shut up!

#Though on this page (shown right) of the Circuit of Wales website, in an undated piece, Peter Thomas is still listed as a director. He is also listed as CEO of Insight in Infrastructure, another new company (set up in September 2011) and also based in Cambridge. Though this company appears dormant, if not dead. Yet these are the people running a £250m racetrack project, with only one among them who appears to have any experience of motor sport, and no obvious assets. Doesn’t that fill you with confidence?