Gilestone Revisited

I took a week off last week. It was too hot for blogging. For which we must all blame anthropogenic global warming. Then again, it might just have been normal summer weather.

It certainly was when the rain arrived. So different to when I was a boy . . .

Back then, summer started in mid-March, many over the age of 50 were dead from heatstroke and malaria by the time we celebrated the Feast of Saint Blodwen of Cwmrhydyceirw. And we played cricket ‘frae morning sun till dine’.

Happy days!

BACKGROUND

To get the background for this story – fast developing into a saga – you’d better read Green Man, Red Herring? (20.05.2022) about the purchase, by the self-styled ‘Welsh Government’, for £4.25m, of Gilestone farm, just outside Talybont-on-Usk.

According to the aforementioned ‘Welsh Government’, the farm was bought in order to be leased to the Green Man festival. Yet the Green Man submitted no business plan, and says it has no intention of leaving its current venue at the Glanusk estate, a few miles down the road.

For these and other reasons I suggested the Green Man angle was perhaps a distraction. I’ll go further now and suggest that Gilestone itself might not be the thread to follow if we want to know what’s really going on.

There seem to be two possible ways of explaining it. Both start from the same point.

WATERSHED AGRICULTURAL COUNCIL

And that point is the visit to Wales in March 2018 by a delegation from the Watershed Agricultural Council (WAC), based in the Catskill Mountains of New York State. This trip was organised and hosted by Dŵr Cymru / Welsh Water.

It was arranged to coincide with the Watersource 18 Conference.

Click to open enlarged in separate tab

This northern reach of the Appalachian mountain chain supplies New York City with its drinking water, and of course NYC wishes to ensure a supply of good drinking water.

As the video below explains, legislation introduced in 1990 meant that water for NYC would need to be more rigorously treated, but one option was prohibitively expensive, even for the Big Apple.

The need to find a cheaper alternative to the $5 – 7bn outlay on a new filtration plant led to the link-up between NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Catskill farmers, foresters and others.

Following that visit to Wales in March 2018 for the Watersource conference the next contact was in June 2019, when a party representing Dŵr Cymru visited the Catskills.

There was another US visit later that year. This time a Dŵr Cymru representative and some Beacons farmers went over. Among those who made this trip were Richard Roderick, who farms across the Usk from Gilestone, and Keri Davies of Crai.

Representing Dŵr Cymru was Nigel Elgar, the project manager for DC’s Brecon Beacons Mega Catchment scheme. So here’s another video!

(How many more transatlantic trips would there have been without Covid?)

In December 2019 Roderick and Davies were together again as guests at a meeting of Natural Resources Wales Land Management Forum Agri-Pollution Sub Group.

This was around the time Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths (and Gary) started blaming farmers for every bit of crud in every waterway in Wales.

An anti-farmer campaign that resulted in the notorious ‘NVZ’ legislation.

The next step was the formation, in May 2020, of the Beacons Water Group CIC (BWG). Roderick and Davies were among the six directors, as was Charles Weston, who owned Gilestone. But at the formation of BWG – some two years before Gilestone was sold to the ‘Welsh Government’ – Weston gave a Crai address.

Had he already vacated Gilestone? Had it already been bought?

A fourth Founding Father was Anthony Hugh Martineau. He farms land at Llangorse lake owned by the Raikes family of Treberfydd House.

Martineau is also an ‘advisor’ in sustainable agriculture at Black Mountains College in Talgarth. Which is interesting because back in New York State there’s Bard College, another George Soros-backed institution.

And Bard College seems to work with the Watershed Agricultural Council.

Click to open enlarged in separate tab

Perhaps to complete the circle, Dŵr Cymru is chummy with Soros College, Talgarth. Our water supplier is sponsoring an Ecological Futures Camp in August.

So if you want to learn how to catch and skin an illegally released beaver, and then turn the pelt into a nice pair of slippers for Auntie Ceinwen, get your name down now!

Oh, I can’t wait!

‘WATER, WATER, EVERYWHERE . . . ‘

So, as I suggested in a tweet last week, the events around the Gilestone purchase could be all about Dŵr Cymru getting together with farmers to ensure a constant supply of good drinking water.

But if we were simply talking about clean drinking water, then I might not be writing this. For who could argue against?

There has to be more to it.

Let’s think back to the video we looked at earlier. The one in which we were told that the Watershed Agricultural Council came into being as a result of new and more stringent regulations regarding water quality.

That’s true, though things got off to a rocky start. There was clearly local opposition to what them folks from the big city wanted to do.

Click to open enlarged in separate tab

Though relations between NYC authorities and Catskill farmers seem to have improved, perhaps because (penultimate paragraph): “Farmers have been given 100% funding from WAC for infrastructure to improve water quality. WAC is trusted intermediary and all work is locally led, science based and voluntary with no regulations.”

By comparison, I get the impression that the ‘Welsh Government’ and Natural Resources Wales hope to use new regulations to bankrupt farmers and free up land.

Though I’m writing about the USA I still don’t understand why Dŵr Cymru needed to go there to learn about clean drinking water. They could have gone anywhere in Europe without the cost and environmental damage of transatlantic flights.

Some might conclude – as I have done – that certain agencies in Wales were attracted to New York City’s watershed model for reasons other than just clean water.

Either way, I’d like to know how or through whom Dŵr Cymru first made contact with those US organisations.

Whatever the answer, it would not justify spaffing £4.25m of public money.

SO WHAT ELSE COULD IT BE?

The Watershed Agricultural Council website has a page on Conservation Easements. A term and a concept with which I was unfamiliar. I found it fascinating.

Click to open enlarged in separate tab

This is how Wikipedia describes these arrangements.

‘In the United States, a conservation easement (also called conservation covenantconservation restriction or conservation servitude) is a power invested in a qualified private land conservation organization (often called a “land trust“) or government (municipal, county, state or federal) to constrain, as to a specified land area, the exercise of rights otherwise held by a landowner so as to achieve certain conservation purposes.’

The Environment Act 2021 that comes into effect in England on September 30 allows for Conservation Covenants. Read about it here. Note the references to “carbon offsetting” and “carbon insetting”.

I’m not aware of similar Welsh legislation, but the ‘Welsh Government’ usually follows London’s lead. Often with ‘variations to accommodate local circumstances’.

Let’s go back to the Watersource 18 conference in March 2018. Also attending were New York City Department of Environment’s Water Supply Bureau and, giving the keynote speech, the Catskill Watershed Corporation (CWC).

These bodies remind us that Conservation Easements / Covenants are not the only way for land to be used or acquired for ensuring water quality and other purposes.

The website for the Catskills Watershed Corporation tells us:

‘The CWC was officially born January 17, 1997 with the signing of the landmark New York City Watershed Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between City, State, Federal and environmental entities and Watershed municipalities. The MOA and associated Filtration Avoidance Determination (FAD), allowed the City to avoid building an expensive facility to filter its Catskill-Delaware Water Supply as long as it proved it could keep this surface supply clean through land acquisition, regulations and city-funded, locally-administered environmental protection programs.’

“Land acquisition . . . environmental protection programs”.

Then, this NYC Department of Environmental Protection document says something very similar (paragraph 5):

‘In the late 1990s, DEP began a Land Acquisition Program to protect water quality in its reservoirs by preserving key parcels of land in the watershed. Since then, DEP has acquired more than 100,000 acres of land in the Catskills, including many tracts that were historically used for agriculture or rented by neighboring farmers.’

“Land Acquisition Program . . . tracts that were historically used for agriculture”.

I guess whether Conservation Easements / Covenants benefit farmers depends on who’s wielding the power.

Statements made and attitudes displayed in recent years by representatives of the ‘Welsh Government’ towards the farming community and the countryside in general make me pessimistic.

BEACONS WATER GROUP

I’m intrigued by the rather mysterious Beacons Water Group CIC. One thing I find odd is that – even allowing for Covid – a Community Interest Company has gained no new members in over two years of its existence.

Is it a closed shop?

Come to that, which ‘community’ does it represent? And in which way? When I checked the BWG entry on the Companies House website, and in particular the Certificate of Incorporation, there, under ‘Objects’, I found what you see below.

Click to open enlarged in separate tab

It struck me as being rather vague. With no mention of water despite ‘Water’ appearing in the company name. And why ‘visitors’ (before ‘residents’) – is it a tourism group?

There are six directors of the Beacons Water Group.

Two were taken on a trip to the USA by Dŵr Cymru, and ‘debriefed’ on their return by Natural Resources Wales. A third had his farm bought by the ‘Welsh Government’ for a grossly inflated price. A fourth farms land owned by a local squire and is connected to a Soros-backed institution.

The other two directors I haven’t really checked on yet.

It stinks! (And I’m not talking agricultural pollution of watercourses!)

CONCLUSION

We have been lied to about the purchase of Gilestone farm. Especially the reason given for buying it. The Green Man festival is peripheral to these machinations, if it’s involved at all.

Gilestone being bought for an insane amount of money cannot be divorced from the owner, Charles Weston, belonging to the in-crowd Beacons Water Group.

Is Gilestone the first of many purchases of farms close to a watercourse? Though how many farms in Wales are not close to a watercourse!

There may be partnership in the USA between farmers and officialdom but that won’t happen in Wales, where too many civil servants and politicians regard George Monbiot as the ultimate authority on Welsh farming.

What you’ve read here is about water only in so far as water quality might in future be used to appropriate farmland. This explains the attraction of the Catskills model to certain agencies in Wales.

As I’ve suggested, it was no coincidence that the absurd ‘NVZ’ legislation, pretending a highly localised issue is a nationwide crisis, was dreamed up at the very time others were to-ing and fro-ing across the Atlantic.

Because the NVZ regulations are also about land, rather than water.

♦ end ♦

 

© Royston Jones 2022


27 thoughts on “Gilestone Revisited

  1. David Robins

    Any idea why, when I try to reply to a conversation, the comment jumps to the top of the page instead?

  2. Dafis

    Thanks for reminding us about the Wales Gov’s National Peatlands Action Programme. On its own a worthy plan well worth pursuing. However, when one stands back and pauses there comes a realisation that these morons are at it again. One wing of fantasists ripping up peatlands as fast as they can to enable wind turbines, their foundations, infrastructure and access roads to be constructed, while the other sets out to create new peatlands !

    Is this kind of repetitive lunacy just a feature of certain types of Welsh personality, or does it get implanted surgically when folk become A.S’s, M.P’s or civil servants ? W e are about to see it happen at Bryn Brawd which sits in a key watershed area in S.E Ceredigion and into N.E. Sir Gar. Beautiful bit of open range, soggy as hell, sucks up water (and CO2) like a sponge, but not for much longer if these turds bobbing about in Cardiff Bay get their way.

    1. The kindest thing one can say is that they’re inconsistent. More likely, they don’t know what the hell they’re doing.

  3. David Robins

    When Elan was laid out, Birmingham Corporation compulsorily acquired by Act of Parliament all the land in the watershed – 72 square miles, about 1% of Wales – to guarantee water quality and quantity. Much like the NYC example. Same, I gather, with the Liverpool reservoirs, which is why when Severn-Trent sold the Lake Vyrnwy estate leasehold it was to United Utilities, who already owned the pipelines to Merseyside.

    Buying Gilestone to protect water quality at an existing reservoir makes no sense: I’m not aware there are any downstream of Talybont. Perhaps there’s a plan to extract water from the river somewhere, but in that case it would be necessary to buy up many tens of thousands of acres to guarantee quality without expensive treatment. This is why reservoirs are in the side valleys, not on main rivers, especially once they’ve passed through a few towns. Usk Reservoir is an exception but it’s at the headwaters.

    Your concerns about Gilestone make more sense if there are plans for ‘another Elan’: not impossible, given the strategic planning for water supply in the western UK, but I’d need more evidence to be convinced. However, consider the following.

    You’ve posted a helpful location map – with contours – which shows the Usk valley narrowing to a point at Llanddetty Hall. Dammable? You already have Talybont Reservoir and associated infrastructure (recently upgraded) handily to the SW. There’s also the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal. Canals are used to shift water about: Bristol takes its supply from mid-Wales via the Severn and then the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal (significantly, Mr Weston’s old haunt). It has to be thoroughly treated after its journey.

    Looking at the NRW Flood Map for Planning, I see that the Usk floodplain at Gilestone is a bigger area than Talybont Reservoir, and the contours show it being about as deep. It’s all over to the east side, so could be dammed without affecting Talybont village. It’s the largest undammed area of floodplain on the Usk upstream of Usk itself not ruled out as a reservoir by the contours.

    The Brecon Beacons National Park LDP Proposals Map shows the River Usk as a Special Area of Conservation, but now we’re outside the EU that legislation is revocable. Gilestone has a ‘notifiable installation’ out the back – probably a gas pipeline, as it runs in a thin strip from Brecon to Blaenavon – but if money talks it can be moved. The whole area’s shown as having potential for sand and gravel extraction – being a river floodplain – so there’s your money. The hole left behind increases the water capacity.

    Running the project through ‘Welsh’ government hands – not Dwr Cymru’s at this stage – makes it all deniable for as long as necessary. If it never happens, it was never planned to happen. Just a festival site.

    Unconnected, but it’s informative to compare your OS extract with my 1974 folded paper version. “Buckland Fm”, west of Bwlch, was then called Gwern-y-berllan.

    1. There are ongoing discussions about transferring water from ‘west to east’ within Britain. Using the term ‘Wales to England’ is delicately avoided. Then, someone else was thinking along similar lines and sent me this yesterday. Though this proposal seems to extract from further north.

      I’m off to Aberystwyth soon, but when I return I shall give this possibility the consideration it deserves.

  4. danny

    Corruption Bay are communists dressed in socialist clothing

    Stalin introduced collectivism and starved millions to death

    These nutters want to introduce rewilding and it is of little consequence to them how many they starve along the way

    1. I’m not sure they want to starve us, but they do want to take over Welsh farmland.

      They really are a conundrum. Welsh ‘socialists’ more sympathetic to the concerns of the English middle class than to the needs of the Welsh working class.

      1. David Smith

        I think Danny needs to remember that, all legitimate criticisms aside, the administration is closer in manner to a county council than a totalitarian state, in terms of the hold it has on society. Remember it is wholly subordinate and answerable to Westminster (no Roe V. Wade-esque wrangling here over who has the final say – the Crown vested in Parliament does).

        As Jac has discussed elsewhere, perhaps they are allowed to exercise ham-fisted socialism lite within their remit, to allow the ruling Conservatives to go “See!? See?!” With index fingers aimed west. For the record I’m not entirely convinced that what some might (misconceivedly) call socialism is doomed to failure. The Scandinavian countries are happy, productive, looked after, and perhaps crucially, far more culturally enriched than gaudy, ultracapitalist America.

        1. The difference, I’ve always believed, between socialists in Wales and those in Scandinavia is that the latter understand that to fund their utopias you need a functioning economy. In Wales, thanks to devolution, there is a block grant which allows ‘our’ socialists to virtue signal away to their little hearts’ content.

          THIS, I believe, London understands, and welcomes. And when I say ‘London’ I am referring to an apparatus rather than a political party or even an institution.

          1. If we can consider the requirement of a functioning economy as the carrot, we must also consider the stick. That is, with Scandinavian nations the administrations are custodians of a sovereign state, and so the buck stops with them, so they have the impetus to deliver for their people. They have the full set of levers to their hands, including those that activate the trap doors. Sandbox Wales has no such concept of risk and reward.

            I’ve always considered it something of a financial fudge, the claim that our very existence is subsidised by England. Indeed, conceptually such an argument pisses all over any Unionist stance that the UK is one indivisible entity in the mould of Northern Ireland being as British as Finchley, as surely it’s as absurd to make such a claim as it is to say that Runcorn is subsidised by Henley-on-Thames?

            However, the official government stance is indeed that, as it was one of the key arguments made by Better Together in 2014. It goes to show that the great champions of small government, enterprise and free markets are willing to prop up dead duck hangers-on when England’s Glory is at stake. Didn’t Maggie stop at privatising Royal Mail because she didn’t want to sell off the Queen’s head?

            1. I agree up to a point. That point being that the ‘Welsh Government’ will always blame ‘London’ for services that fall short of an acceptable level.

              But, if Drakeford and his gang want to be viewed as something more than a bunch of political incompetents subsidised by an annual block grant, much of which is then squandered, it’s in their own interests to do better in order to show their competence. The danger with a consistently failing devolution system in Wales is that it turns people off devolution. That may be the intention.

              But if you turn people off devolution then you present them with two options – direct rule, or independence. Serious consideration of either will lead to bitterness and unrest. It’s therefore in the interests of ‘London’ and the parties in the Senedd to make devolution work.

              1. You’ve confused me a bit there Jac, easier conveyed by the point of a bullet:
                – Agree with what up to a point?
                – The intention of what actors, to put people off devolution?
                – Bitterness and unrest, towards the idea of indy? Are you referring in this case to inveterate BritNats?

                1. Up to a point about the Scandinavian nations. For example, Norway is an oil-rich country with one of the biggest sovereign wealth funds in the world, which tends to distort the comparison.

                  The actors I’m thinking of are those dedicated to either making devolution fail or else to use devolution to serve interests other than ours. More than once I’ve pointed the finger at civil servants sent down by London and answering to London. Then there are certain appointees whose commitment to Wales is questionable in the extreme. Think NRW as an example. But there are others.

                  What I tried to convey in the third paragraph is that the undermining of devolution, or devolution continuing to fail to deliver, might result in a collapse in support for devolution and polarise opinion between those wanting to return to the status quo ante devolution and those wanting to push on to independence.

          2. Dafis

            Your reply sums up neatly how a London Tory government sees the puppet regime down the Bay. It would be interesting to see how much change, if any, would arise from UK Gov becoming Labour led. Not a lot is my view but I’m open to alternative diagnosis.

            One thing for sure the Bay “community” in its present composition is wedded almost completely to a fantasist world view and looks unlikely to budge from that stance. We currently face a right mix of crises at individual and collective levels yet governments ignore the relatively simple actions that would at least mitigate the worst of the financial pain. I read somewhere that 20 or more A.S’s have supported the action taken by RMT and threatened by others, yet none of these wankers have mustered the savvy to call on government to ease the burden on the ” hard working” public by dumping green levies and all the other on costs driven by their obsession with the green gospels. Posturing unlimited, and credit to Lynch and his kind for putting some distance between themselves and the grey suited morons of politics and the MSM.

            On a lighter note I noticed a tweet from your column by Emyr Lyn regarding Gilestone – ” maybe they going to move the Eisteddfods there too . . and a racing track . . is there a boating lake for a marina ?”

            Fancy that ! A national sports and culture centre over 50 miles away from Cardiff, the hub of the Bay Bubble’s universe ! Can’t be allowed, can it ? Or maybe some good will come from this scam after all.

            1. The Green levies might remain in place as window dressing while governments ‘work around’ them with coal and other options to keep the lights on and prices somewhere below exorbitant.

              Because these bastards know that if Putin plays hardball, and there are power cuts in the autumn, then there will be – to use a euphemism – ‘unrest’. What form that unrest takes depends to some extent on the severity of the problem and the disposition of the people affected. By which I mean that the French are more likely to take to the streets than the Germans. But if the Germans do take to the streets then Net Zero and the associated bullshit is finished.

              I don’t watch much TV news so I’m not sure how well this has been reported, but Dutch farmers are very, very angry with their government. We don’t normally think of the Dutch doing this kind of thing, which may be some indication of how pissed off they are.

              There are all sorts of influences at play here. For example, your average Western politician is now so fucking brainwashed that he or she will accept and repeat any bullshit. If they can believe that men have periods then they can believe that farting cows are heating up the world to the point where it will soon become uninhabitable. By accepting these idiocies our masters have only widened the gulf between elites and the condescended-to proles and peasants.

              And those pushing these idiocies have almost total control of the media, which inevitably results in people seeking the ‘truth’ elsewhere, and often falling into the arms of nutters of the opposite persuasion.

              Who gains from this disconnect between Western populations and their leaders? One obvious beneficiary is the aforementioned Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. Then there’s the Chinese Communist Party. Oil sheikhs. Every scumbag who wants to enter the USA or Europe for easy money and blonde-haired women. None of them have our best interests at heart.

              Unless the West starts prioritising its own interests, then we’re fucked. It’ll be the fall of Rome all over again.

                1. Not a word I’ve used in recent years.

                  Another worry I have – and I know you’ll appreciate it – is that if w see the threat of power cuts, and ‘unrest’, later in the year, then the perfect response for governments would be another Covid lockdown.

        2. Neil Singleton

          Easy, but incorrect, to term Scandinavian countries as socialist. For example operate capitalist free market economies and encourage private education, anathema to socialists. What they do is impose some of the highest personal tax rates in Europe, out of which they pay for “social” not socialist programmes.

          1. Read it again, I do believe I couched the word with “What some might call…” qualifiers. I’d also call the WG not socialist either, given the fact there’s no conceivable way it could be without all the levers of control to its hand. In intent, well …

        1. I do not enjoy a pint in Aberystwyth as I’m always driving. The last time I had a session in Aber was many years ago in the Crystal Palace, which seems to have changed its name. Why?

            1. I’d have to get the bus to Tywyn to get the train. So, yes, that is a possibility. As for paying, I think my pensioner travel pass might cover it. I can certainly use it on the bus.

Would you like to comment?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.