The R word.

Cofiwch Dryweryn, Llanrhystud

Part One:

In 1965 the Tryweryn valley – north-west of Bala in north Wales – was flooded to create a reservoir to supply water for the city of Liverpool. This was despite a determined and almost unanimous campaign by Welsh M.P.’s and many other Welsh people. Permission for a dam to be built was the result, unusually, of an Act of Parliament being obtained. This avoided the need for local scrutiny through the planning process. Land and properties were obtained by a process of compulsory purchase; the inhabitants of Capel Celyn were forcibly removed and the village submerged. It is not surprising that the whole episode became pivotal in the recent history of Welsh nationalism. “Cofiwch Dryweryn” (Remember Tryweryn) has become shorthand for the English mistreatment of the Welsh nation. The reservoir itself is probably the ugliest in the whole of Wales.

During the run-up to the flooding the Welsh nationalist (and later writer and academic) Meic Stephens drove around Wales scrawling “Cofwich Dryweryn” on various buildings.  One, on a ruined cottage in a prominent position by the A487 near Llanrhystud in Ceredigion, survived. It has become a kind of unofficial national monument, despite being partly demolished and rebuilt several times, most notably earlier this year. Following the most recent vandalisation, copycat graffiti quickly appeared in various locations all over Wales. The vandals proved to be their own worst enemy.

Part Two:

I have previously written about Re-wilding – here, for example.  The idea was really brought into the public domain by George Monbiot, in his book “Feral” – published in 2013. He lived in Machynlleth (mid-Wales) for several years and what he saw and experienced in the area were very important to his way of thinking. He had explored the hill country around the town and saw how badly it had been “sheep-wrecked”, and how even the conservation agencies were complicit in keeping it that way. In “Feral” he went through the economics of sheep farming in great detail, concluding that without the EU subsidies sheep farming was completely uneconomic.  Monbiot said that re-wilding would be a far better use of the land if the farmers were willing to accept it. The farming unions went ballistic! They mistakenly concluded that Monbiot was advocating compulsory re-wilding and that their members would be thrown off their land.

Perhaps if Monbiot had written about sheep farming in the Pennines, for example, where the problems are probably identical, he would have stirred up less bad feeling.  The Welsh language is a pretty sensitive subject round here and its heartland is in the farming community. I can understand the sensitivities involved but when the farming community feel most threatened the language issue always comes up. It’s like the nuclear option.

Re-wilding protest, Machynlleth

Part Three:

Earlier this year the charity Rewilding Britain announced one of their new projects –  Summit to Sea. Based in Machynlleth, the project aims to use re-wilding principles, where appropriate, and agreements with farmers and landowners, to improve biodiversity over a 10,000 hectare area of mid-Wales from the summit of Pumlumon to the coast, and offshore well into the waters of Cardigan Bay.  Its “core area” is the Dyfi estuary, already the location of an extensive National Nature Reserve, an RSPB reserve (Ynyshir), and the Dyfi Osprey Project. Alongside the biodiversity aims, the project proposes to create living landscapes where local communities are able to enjoy sustainable lifestyles. It has proved extremely controversial. The farming unions have come out against it, despite the fact that the project is funded to the tune of £3.4m over the first five years. With the future of farming subsidies in such grave doubt following Brexit, why ever would farmers want to look such a gift horse in the mouth? It just doesn’t make sense.

The problem is the “R-word”. Many mid-Wales sheep farmers seem to believe they have an inalienable right to carry on farming the way they are now doing, largely at the public expense. They refuse to accept that the degraded landscapes and wildlife that surround them are the results of their activities – prompted by government policies – over a period of several decades. They do not see why or how they should possibly change their farming methods to give nature a chance to recover. Some – not all – have seen wildlife as the enemy for so long that it is difficult for them to change their mindset. The idea that re-wilding would be compulsory is still propogated by the farming lobby, despite repeated denials.

So there is now a campaign underway to scrap the Summit to Sea project completely. Stickers, banners, and slogans are appearing all over the area saying “no” to re-wilding. One in Machynlleth rather worryingly also includes the “Cofiwch Dryweryn” slogan. Is it their intention to associate re-wilding in mid-Wales with flooding the Tryweryn valley by Liverpool City Council in the 1960’s? One can’t be sure. But there is one big difference: re-wilding will always be voluntary whereas eviction from the village of Capel Celyn was compulsory.

For more on Summit to Sea click here

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Rallying around.

The rally route near my home…..

Almost every day brings more news about the speed with which the climate is warming, whether it be forest fires in Siberia, the melting icecap in Greenland, or record high temperatures in Alaska – to name three recent examples. The suspicion is that the climate is changing much faster than was ever imagined. It seems that climate chaos will soon be with us.

Yet north Ceredigion will soon be the venue for a new car rally; possibly the most frivolous waste of fossil fuels that it is possible to imagine. The Rali Bae Ceredigion, due to take place in early September, will see 120 cars covering a total race length of 44 miles in four stages. Roads in the Bontgoch, Pendam/Ponterwyd, Ystumtuen and Nant-y-moch areas will be closed for the day. Cars will slowly proceed from stage to stage on public roads, another 44 miles.

As well as the carbon emissions from the competition cars themselves, those from an estimated 1500 marshals, officials and mechanics required on the day need to be added. On top of that will be the emissions involved from their journeys to north Ceredigion from their homes, PLUS an unknown (but probably considerable) number of spectators. Rally organisers claim that the use of shuttle buses to take spectators to vantage points on the rally route will “boost the event’s environmental credentials”. As if it had any!

No-one who has given their endorsement to this rally can possibly have considered its environmental impact. If they had it would have been a non-starter. The climate crisis is just too serious. And yet rally organisers hope that this rally will become an annual event, “developing and expanding” in future years..

Backers of the rally include Visit Wales, part of the Welsh Assembly Government, which has recently declared a Climate Emergency. Ben Lake MP (Plaid Cymru spokesman on the environment, among other things) is in favour, despite his party strongly supporting the Climate Emergency Declaration. “Without the commitment to action that such a Declaration necessitates, the statement is meaningless”, said Plaid Cymru in May.

Those who seem likely to gain the most financially from the rally include Ceredigion County Council – who narrowly failed to declare a Climate Emergency themselves earlier this year – and Aberystwyth University.

The University will be making a very tidy profit from hosting the rally. Rooms in its Halls of Residence will be rented out to drivers and officials. Space for parking, vehicle movements and servicing, office activity, presentation areas, and catering facilities will be made available. Among the areas commandeered will be the Arts Centre and one has to question how appropriate the use of the Arts Centre actually is. What possible artistic or cultural purpose does a car rally serve?

The University really needs to examine its conscience on the Climate Emergency. They still have investments in the fossil fuel industry, and rally organisers have been quite open about the University’s support – without it the rally just would not happen.

When we are all being urged to leave the car at home and use public transport to save carbon emissions, this new rally is close to being an obscenity. It should not be repeated.

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