Response to e-action from Welsh Labour Party
The Welsh Government is committed to accelerating work on the National Forest for Wales in this Senedd term. This includes improving existing woodland and supporting communities across Wales, including in our uplands, to create 30 new woodlands and to connect habitat areas.
Current guidance around the planting of trees is too complicated; it is not easy for those who want to create new woodland to navigate regulatory and funding systems. The Welsh Government will therefore soon publish new, simpler guidance written from a citizen’s perspective and is exploring how the employment of new woodland officers can help communities across Wales to navigate interactions with local authorities and Natural Resources Wales (NRW).
The Welsh Government will also introduce a new woodland creation funding offer. This will include separate funding for creating new woodland, to develop a regular stream of new projects and enable more agile decision-making in allocating funding to tree planting. A pilot of this system will be launched later this year, making support available for at least 500 hectares of future woodland plans. Further detail will be set out in a new Woodland for Wales Action Plan which will be published later this year.
Like woodlands, peatlands play an important dual role in absorbing vast quantities of carbon emissions and supporting a rich suite of habitats and species. And as you will be aware, peat is most extensive in the uplands where there is widespread blanket bog. Last year the Welsh Government launched Wales’ first National Peatlands Action Program with the ambition to restore 5,000 hectares of the most modified areas of peatland and to bring all peatlands with semi-natural vegetation, a further 30,000 hectares, into favourable management. £1m was invested in 2020-21 to deliver the first year of the restoration program leading to more than 1,000 hectares being restored. You can find out more about the scope of coordinated actions over the next few years to re-wet and restore our peatlands by going to https://cdn.cyfoethnaturiol.cymru/media/692535/national-peatlands-action-programme-annexb-accessible.pdf.
The Welsh Government is serious about addressing biodiversity loss across Wales. It has put significant new resources into maintaining and enhancing biodiversity in its budget for this year and has also refreshed its national Nature Recovery Action Plan (NRAP) to take into account the growing evidence around the scale of biodiversity loss and ecosystem damage. The aim of the NRAP is to build resilient ecological networks across our landscapes and sea to safeguard species and habitats and the benefits they provide, address the root causes of biodiversity loss, and target interventions to help species recovery.
As part of the effort to support the creation of more habitats rich in biodiversity, the Welsh Government is committed to creating or significantly enhancing green spaces which will be accessible to and valued by local communities. This includes 2,000 pollinator habitat sites, 100 ‘Tiny Forests’ (small but dense and diverse woodlands) and a number of habitat creation schemes at rail stations and transport interchanges.
NRW also has a major part to play to halting and reversing the decline in nature. NRW are expected to make strides to restore its own Natura 2000 sites and to take forward the planned programme for restoration of woodland and degraded peatlands to create healthy functioning wet bogs. This will be an important component of wider efforts to bring wildlife back into the uplands.
On the issue of flood prevention, this year in Wales over £65 million is being invested in flood risk management in Wales – the largest amount invested in Wales in a single year. What’s more, the Welsh Government’s Programme for Government commits to delivering nature-based flood management in all major river catchments which will not only reduce flood risk to homes but also help to reduce pollution and restore natural habitats. The Welsh Government is also committed to expanding wetland and woodland habitats and to improving their resilience at the same time as relieving pressure on hard flood defences. Welsh Labour in government will also legislate in this Senedd term to strengthen the requirements for the use of sustainable drainage systems that provide wildlife habitat.
I fully agree that the decline in populations of raptors such as hen harriers is deeply alarming and that we need to do everything possible to clamp down on wildlife crime, and raptor persecution in particular. Tackling raptor persecution is a priority for the Welsh Government. Together with the RSPB, it has jointly funded a new Raptor Fieldworker in Wales who started work in April of last year to establish the extent of illegal killing of birds of prey in key areas of Wales through proactive presence in areas of risk. The fieldworkers is also supporting the police and Welsh Government officers in following up reports of persecution incidents from the public.
In terms of the specific concerns around hen harriers, the Welsh Government has fully funded the continuation of the RSPB Hen Harrier tagging, which started in 2015 as part of an EU LIFE project. This is enabling the RSPB to continue to fit satellite tags to Welsh hen harrier chicks to understand more about their post-fledging dispersal, to aid with management plans for the Special Protection Areas and implement further protection measures for this species.
Partnership working between the Welsh Government, Natural Resources Wales (NRW), the Police, Fire Service, Government Agency Intelligence Network and the Crown Prosecution Service plays a fundamental role in detecting, preventing, investigating and enforcing wildlife and rural crime, both at a national strategic level and a regional operational level. Welsh Government officials work closely with the four Welsh Police Forces, NRW and other enforcement bodies through the Wales Wildlife and Rural Crime Group. The Group identifies regional wildlife and rural crime priorities as well as ensuring Welsh interests are represented at UK Priority Delivery Groups, including the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group.
I hope that my response demonstrates both my and the Welsh Labour Government’s strong commitment to speaking up for our uplands and for nature, and tackling the climate and nature emergencies. I will continue to take an active interest in developments in this area and will raise the points you have made in all relevant discussions.