Guest post: ‘A sustainable Wales . . . or not’

I’M IN SEMI-RETIREMENT AND THIS BLOG IS WINDING DOWN. I INTEND CALLING IT A DAY SOON AFTER THIS YEAR’S SENEDD ELECTIONS. POSTINGS WILL NOW BE LESS FREQUENT AND I WILL NOT UNDERTAKE ANY MAJOR NEW INVESTIGATIONS. DIOLCH YN FAWR.

As it says in the title, this a guest post, and from someone who knows of what they speak. Read it carefully, for it contains valuable insights that you’re unlikely to get elsewhere.

Specifically, this post is about Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) legislation and the vote on March 3 that saw the ‘Welsh Government’ push through its draconian measures which are simply another attack on our farmers.

The fact that most of the pollution doesn’t even come from farms is not simply irrelevant to Labour politicians, it’s ignored completely.

To understand the bigger picture you must realise that the local branch of the British Labour Party is a statist outfit that wants to control everything and everybody, either directly, or else through its agencies in the third sector and elsewhere.

As the writer explains, Labour politicians don’t like farmers because farmers own land (kulaks, see), and they tend to be independently-minded, with a habit of standing up for themselves. What’s more, they’re adept at recognising bullshit.

So farmers have to go. This will be justified on environmental grounds. Freeing land for hippies, rewilders and foreign investors.

This control-freakery also explains why Wales is a basket-case economy. Labour does not want free-thinking indigenous entrepreneurs, even if they provide jobs and make Wales prosperous. Far better to keep Wales poor, blame somebody else, and keep getting elected.

The resultant poverty can also be justified with envirobollocks – ‘What ew mean ew got no job – look at all them wind turbines saving the planet. You selfish bugger!’

Well, of course, that’s not strictly true. Labour politicians and their third sector cronies will always have jobs. Enviroshysters – almost all of them from outside of Wales – will also have jobs. It’s ordinary Welsh people who lose out.

The message is simple. Don’t vote Labour in May’s Senedd elections. Don’t vote for Plaid Cymru either, because Labour will need a coalition with Plaid to stay in power.

Now read what our guest writer has to say . . .

So, in the last month or so, Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Environment has pushed on with legislation she said she would not push on with 11 times. This was on the basis that agricultural incidents had not decreased from the 3 a week figure that is regularly quoted. As of 3rd March, the regulations will now progress following the Senedd vote.

There are various figures banded around as to why this has been a trigger point and why such an aggressive move has been taken, in the middle (and it is the middle) of the COVID crisis and indeed the aftermath of the Brexit deal.

This is really a statement piece by the Minister to appeal to the environment lobby and her back benchers in the run up to an election. Facts, figures and advice on the regulation from her own regulator, NRW, have been ignored and politics has been front and centre of the decision. Where to go from here? We’ll come back to that a little later.

Jac adds: Not only has Lesley Griffiths been saying it, but her civil servants have also been saying it in responses to members of the public. Click to enlarge

When it comes to Welsh Government, it’s worth taking a look back to see how things have developed.

Firstly, getting rid of scrutiny and the various committees that have provided review and direction has been a key strategy. The Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs (CCERA) Committee has to cover such a broad portfolio that it cannot possibly scrutinise in depth. The simple fact is that scrutiny is now a manufactured process, by invitation if you like, with the environment lobby in the pocket of the Minister, who are anti-agri, anti-fisheries and any other private use of natural resources for economic gain, unless you’re a global investor making a land grab under the guise of rewilding, but we won’t mention that.

Secondly, Welsh Government has struggled for years to work out how they could get their policy objectives imprinted on rural Wales. We’re now in the drive to reverse climate change, de-carbonise and promote Wales to the world as a sustainable nation. Farmers own 70% of our private land. The difficulty with trying to get farmers to comply with change is that they own their land and are a broadly militant and belligerent old bunch who would rather sell a kidney than be told what to do. So, in combination with the agriculture white paper out at the moment consulting on the future farm payments system, Minister Griffiths has slapped an NVZ on the whole of Wales to boot.

When you look at some of the drivers of food industry growth, Minister Griffiths own Food and Drink Strategy 2014 – 2020 has targeted increasing sales by 30% to £7bn turnover. Much rejoicing took place last year when it was proclaimed that Welsh Government had ‘smashed its target’. Now a new strategy needs to be developed and it will be based on ‘sustainability’. It should be remembered that Welsh Government has encouraged and invested in the agri-food sectors rapid growth and the question must be asked as to whether it is now a victim of its own success?

I digress.

You see, if you want a snapshot example of what is in store for agriculture, you only need to look at what Welsh Government has done with another comparator sector over which they have devolved responsibility – fisheries.

A small sector in Wales, but nonetheless regularly rolled out by the Minister with unsubstantiated claims of sustainability for which she now strives. The vast majority of engagement mechanisms with the sector have been withdrawn, because, like farmers, fishermen are too difficult for Welsh Government to deal with.

Unlike agriculture, with land ownership in the hands of farmers, Welsh Government actually does have devolved responsibility for marine and fisheries and in layman’s terms, it owns the sea out to the median line. If there is an example of how not to sustainability management resources, this is it. Regulation, not management, is king, delivering boom and bust fisheries such as our main shellfish species by volume, Whelk, that is exploited largely by businesses outside of Wales. Now where have we heard this before…………oh yes, renewables.

Marine renewables is the Minister’s golden ticket to meeting green energy targets and no one will get in the way. While our many centuries old fishing industry and heritage fisheries such as Teifi Seine nets, coracles and the lave net fisheries on the Severn are regulated (for regulated read bullied) out, the push for action in the climate emergency continues. Fisheries is a shining example of how Welsh Government ‘manages’ its resources and should serve as a warning to what is to come for terrestrial Wales.

So the stage is set for the roll out of the NVZ agricultural pollution regulations that will sit alongside the consultation on the agriculture white paper and an announcement made with regard to the future strategy for the food and drink sector where sustainable food production will be at the core. All very nicely choreographed.

What is amazing in all of this is the almost pathological inability of the Minister to acknowledge the issues caused by sewage outfall and releases by water authorities. This has been documented by the BBC and most recent data provided by the Rivers Trust makes for dire reading. Her responses when questioned on this in Plenary have been evasive to say the least. She doesn’t want to talk about it. She has to get her way with the agri sector to line up the other policy objectives. A savage attack on the proposed regulations took place in the Senedd via a recent Conservative debate and again, while referring to a very recent incident and the ‘one too many’ quote, the reality is that statistically there could have well been another 82 sewage incidents going on the very same day!

I have no doubt that a number of MS’s who have voted on this will not have the foggiest what they are voting for, but will have been lobbied by the ‘bastard farmers’ environment crowd from their Cardiff and London bases. The perverse part of this is that in a drive for Wales to be perceived as one of the world’s most sustainable food producers, Minister Griffiths will designate the whole of the country an NVZ against the advice of her regulator and ignoring the main contributor to water quality issues. How does she think this looks from the outside looking in? We’re a laughing stock.

In sectors that have been under devolved regulation for many years such as fisheries, the Minister now talks about co-management out of regulation with a group they can’t engage with and then at the same time has rejected any suggestion of voluntary co-managed farmer-led approaches to agri pollution that were on the table to move to, yep, you’ve guessed it……..regulation. I would suggest her officials need a Zoom meeting to square the circle here.

L to R: Gary Haggaty, civil servant; Lesley Griffiths MS, Labour, Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs; Caroline Hitt, writer for the ‘Western Mail’; Elin Jones MS, Plaid Cymru, Senedd Llywydd (Speaker). The cosiness of Corruption Bay made corporeal in a Dublin bar. Click to enlarge

This will be her modulation moment, akin to the decision made by Alun Davies to move 15% of the budget away from direct payments to Pillar 2 and just look at the success that has been, as highlighted by Wales Audit Office last year and further exposed by Craig Williams MP recently. I could also go into the uplands payments debacle but I won’t.

How the farming unions react to this will be key and a judicial review can be expected. However, there is a wider assault in the offing for rural Wales in the hot off the press Future Wales 2040 in the name of sustainability and climate change. It is a large document, but I would urge anyone who has an interest in the future of this country to read it and then decide how you will vote in May. Future Wales 2040 is the planning template for this country and where this blog has pointed out the follies of various ‘developers’ and ‘investors’, I’m certain we will see more of this to come, at scale.

Without wanting to overstate the position, we may be seeing the managed decline of industries in the same way the coal industry was portrayed – inefficient, dirty and unwanted by those who have never done a hard day’s work in their life. The Valleys have never recovered and now having failed to deliver on economic development, Welsh Government MUST deal with climate change, even if it means forcing through bad regulation to achieve it.

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The myth of temperate forestation as viable sequestrate of carbon dioxide

This is a guest post by Brychan Davies

 

Global warming is a reality, as is global cooling. Throughout geological time, and throughout the history of mankind there is a natural variance in global temperatures. Geological variance is caused by variations in the tilt of the earth, the polarity switching, and continental drift. The variation on the historical timescale is caused by natural variance in oceanic currents, volcanic activity, and natural oscillations and cyclic proliferation of flora and fauna. Global warning, global cooling is not new. It is part of the natural condition of planet Earth.

Greenhouse Effect

The best example of ‘the greenhouse effect’ is on the planet Venus. A thick soup of acidic water vapour and carbon dioxide ‘traps’ the suns energy and global temperatures are scorching, with an average surface temperature of 300c. The opposite effect can be found on Mars, where the atmosphere which is 95% carbon dioxide but so sparse there is little effect on the atmosphere where global temperatures of –60c. Earth is in the ‘Goldilocks zone’, and naturally oscillates about halfway between these extremes. The mix of naturally fluctuating atmospheric carbon dioxide, and water vapour plays a role in the global temperature.

Fossil Fuels

All coal, oil and fossil fuels on earth was once atmospheric carbon dioxide. In fact the main coal deposits on earth are as a result of carbon dioxide sequestration, 300 million years ago, during the ‘carboniferous’ era. This is the carbon dioxide released back into the atmosphere during the current industrial period, and it is claimed to have a dangerous effect on global warming.

Forestation

It is also claimed that if we now plant trees on land currently used for grazing animals we can mitigate this effect. Is it true?

Well, no. The issue of global warming, and the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide was first identified in the early 1990s and proposals to try to manage this on a global scale was in Japan, in 1992, and it became known as the Kyoto Protocol. Coincidentally, Japan is an ideal comparison with the British Islands, both being of a temperate seasonal climate, with a modern industrial heritage, similar moderation of seasons by oceanic currents, and similar natural forests, a mixture of native coniferous forest at elevation and to the north, with a natural forest of deciduous woodland on the main landmass, with natural shrub and grassland at elevation.

Saikai Forest near Nagasaki. Click to enlarge

Japan, both fortunately and unfortunately, has the advantage of having 75 years worth of continuous scientific study of re-forestation. It arose after a nuclear bomb was dropped on Nagasaki towards the end of WWII. It’s a port city very similar in size to Swansea, surrounded by an area of agricultural land on a peninsular, and a backdrop of moderate uplands, and a self-contained river system.

The bomb resulted in all this being taken out of productive use and a programme of forestation initiated, whose purpose at the time was to soak up nuclear contamination. It is the most intensively studied area of temperate reforestation in the world and has been studied for over 75 years. One particular measure being the sequestration of atmospheric carbon to measure ‘dilution’ of nuclear isotopes, but also provides empirical data on the seasonal sequestration of carbon dioxide as well as a net figure by different tree species over the 75 year period.

The key graph is shown below.

Click to enlarge

CO2 sequestration

Tonnes per hectare per year.

Nineteen-sixty-eight was an important year. It was when the forest changed from being a carbon sink to a net carbon emitter. It related to the age of the trees and the natural eco-system. Mature trees decay, this is when the action of fungi, and other parasitic flora and fauna which consumes the wood, leaf litter, and soils, emitting carbon dioxide in quantities greater than that being absorbed by the tree through photosynthesis.

Tadaki, Y.; Hachiya, K. Forest Ecosystems and Their Productivity; Ringyo Kagakugijutsu Shinkosho: Tokyo, Japan, 1968. (In Japanese)

Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol committed participants to financing measures to tackle carbon dioxide emissions. The United States blamed the rest of the world, suggesting the issue is in the Amazon, the European Union spent cash on changing agriculture with set-aside schemes, and this has now morphed in the United Kingdom to ‘blame the farmers’. Japan, however, took a more scientific approach and launched satellites to measures their forestation, launched a programme of study to measure carbon sequestration of a forestation programme, and was able to use data previously obtained (1968 tipping point) to give real numbers to the subject.

Estimation of CO2 Sequestration by the Forests in Japan by Discriminating Precise Tree Age Category using Remote Sensing Techniques” – 2015.

The reality is that a newly planted forest does act as an initial carbon sink, but only until the forest reaches maturity. Both show that net gains are negligible after 75 years, although there’s an earlier peak with coniferous forest in comparison to deciduous forest. Gains then become losses. The report is here.

The study concludes with: “The CO2 amount and other important information revealed in this study has provided important data. Do old mature trees sequestrate as much as younger trees? The answer is no when we see the trend of the sequestration as a function of tree age.” Kotaro Iizuka, Ryutaro Tateishi et al.

Wales

So what lessons can we draw on forestation as a method of sequestrating carbon dioxide in Wales? Mass forestation is not the answer. There is flora that does the job – peat bogs. This is where the acidity of the soil does not allow decomposition of vegetation and the result in layer upon layer of peat deposits. To maintain this ground cover, the light grazing of animals is needed, like sheep, to prevent the ingress of trees.

Questions

Why plant forests and remove farmers from the land when doing so has an adverse effect on carbon dioxide sequestration? Why is there an obsession with projects like the ‘Tetrapak Financed Summit to Sea’ project when there is clear scientific evidence that its objective cannot be met by its proposals? If there are short term gains prior to clear felling at sequestration tipping point, why isn’t this a purely commercial proposal? Why use upland grazing land that is already a net carbon sink for projects that scientifically are known to be inferior?

Additional abstract

There is a myth that the large areas of treeless uplands that exist in Wales and the rest of Britain is a ‘man made landscape’ and planting trees in these areas is a form of ‘rewilding’. This is utter nonsense. There is clear scientific evidence that much of upland Britain has been treeless for the last 4000 years, and this is proved by pollen analysis of peat cores. After the last ice age, there were significant natural cyclic oscillations climatic change – dry Boreal, wet Atlantic, dry Sub-boreal, wet Sub-Atlantic. This eradicated almost all upland forestation long before any impact of human activity.

Nant-y-moch from Pumlumon. Click to enlarge

In fact there is ample evidence that forestation in in the 1970s of these areas has caused significant degradation of the diversity of wildlife, the erosion of upland peat deposits, and the net release of sequestrated CO2. There are is currently 589 gigatonnes of carbon in the atmosphere. The current store of carbon in peat deposits is over 600 gigatonnes. Large scale forestation of upland Wales will result in a significant net release of carbon into the atmosphere, and significantly add to global warming.

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