Rewilding

1. Questions to the First Minister – in the Senedd at on 12 September 2023.

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Photo of Joel James Joel James Conservative

(Translated)

3. What are the Welsh Government's plans for rewilding in Wales? OQ59876

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour 1:56, 12 September 2023

The Welsh Government does not support wide-scale land abandonment as a form of rewilding. With others, we work to create living landscapes where farming and forestry sit within and alongside nature protection and promotion.

Photo of Joel James Joel James Conservative

Thank you, First Minister. I, like many others, I'm sure, in this Chamber see rewilding as part of a number of options that will help increase biodiversity in Wales, and in the coming years, I think we can all expect more areas across Wales to be rewilded. As you're no doubt aware, there are many benefits from rewilding, particularly in developing the nature-based economy, reducing the risk of wildfires and improving water quality to name but a few. That said, many farmers are concerned about rewilding, because they see that not only is it on prime agricultural land, but some of the animals reintroduced can cause extensive and costly damage. The First Minister will know of the reintroduction of beavers in Wales, supported through the Welsh Government's rural development programme. Whilst beavers are not currently causing an issue in Wales, in other parts of the UK they are, in particular Scotland. The numbers have grown to such an extent that they're having a detrimental impact in some places and causing localised flooding. This has unfortunately led to an increase in unregulated culling and the complete absence of beavers in some places. With this in mind, First Minister, what steps are the Welsh Government taking to integrate rewilding into the Welsh countryside whilst also supporting farmers who may experience detrimental consequences to their businesses as a result? Thank you.

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour 1:57, 12 September 2023

I thank the Member for the question and for the balanced way in which he set out the debate. I agree with him that it is bound to be a balance of trying to capture the advantages that come for species and nature restoration where it is possible to carry out aspects of rewilding. The Welsh Government supports a whole range of schemes that have rewilding as part of their purpose, but it's got to be done in a way that does not have consequences that we can see elsewhere that were not intended or use up land that could be better used for other productive purposes.

To give the Member an example of where we think rewilding can certainly have a part to play, Members here will know we'll be bringing a Bill in front of them later in the year on coal tip safety. In coal tip reclamation, there are some real opportunities to enhance species diversity and to create new wildlife opportunities through a bit of action that would fall under the rewilding category. I was fortunate enough, Llywydd, to go to Tylorstown in Rhondda Cynon Taf earlier in the summer. Members will remember the landslip that happened there back in the flooding of 2020. The reclamation is now almost complete. It was very impressive to see the way in which the company responsible for the restoration has so carefully made sure that they have rehomed species that have already taken root in that landscape, have created a new wildflower meadow as part of the reclamation, and how using that land, which isn't available for food production or other sorts of activity, will, in future, contribute to species protection and nature restoration. That sort of rewilding—carefully thought through, properly used where the opportunities are right for it—is part of the mix that we will want to take forward in Wales.

Photo of John Griffiths John Griffiths Labour 2:00, 12 September 2023

First Minister, I think the unique and historic Gwent levels are a good example of the sort of balance that you're describing, where land is being returned to nature, the water vole has been reintroduced, farming is continuing, public access is enhanced, and I'm very grateful for the Welsh Government commitment that has protected, and I believe will sustain and enhance, that very important area of land, and indeed the creation of the working group that I chair. So, I'd just like to say on behalf of local communities, First Minister, how grateful they are for that balance that you've described being taken forward and supported in that part of Wales, and obviously they very much hope that the Welsh Government's commitment to work with partners on this agenda will continue in the future.

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour

Well, Llywydd, I thank John Griffiths very much for what he said. In his expertise as chair of the Gwent levels working group, he's a great asset not just to those local populations but to the wider policy agenda that we aim to take forward through the Welsh Government. The Living Levels Landscape Partnership is key to all of that, because it brings together communities, farmers, helping to manage and restore the biodiversity and the landscape features of the Gwent levels. And the Welsh Government does want to do more in the future. I hope that quite soon the Minister for Climate Change will be able to say something about the way in which we will use some of the sites that were acquired prior to the policy that I adopted in relation to the M4 relief road—how we can use those sites for further enhancement of the Gwent levels. That will be an opportunity to do even more in that highly valued landscape.