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Natural Resources Wales

Looking for a Christmas tree? Hands off our woodlands say Welsh environment body

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As the countdown to Christmas begins in earnest, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) is urging people to help protect Wales’ woodlands this winter by only buying Christmas trees from local suppliers.

The call comes following a speight of thefts of young conifer trees from NRW-managed woodland in Afan Forest in Neath Port Talbot, and Alwen Forest near Ruthin over recent days.

NRW manages a significant amount of forests on the Welsh Government Woodland Estate and each forest has its own design plan, which has long term objectives, be it for conservation or commercial purposes.

And as part of its support of National Tree Week, NRW is reminding people to respect the woodland they have come to visit by leaving the trees standing on the forest floors, as opposed to their living rooms.

James Roseblade, Senior Land Management Officer at Natural Resources Wales said: “Cutting down a tree from one of the woodlands we manage is a criminal offence and any report of thefts will be passed on to the police to investigate. Forests are a vital part of Wales’ biodiversity and play a key role in the conservation of endangered species such as the red squirrel and support the local economy through its timber production.

“We know nothing beats the smell of fresh pine needles this time of year. So, if you want a real tree in your living rooms this Christmas, there are plenty of suppliers across Wales who grow and sell fresh trees. Therefore, why not support those business this year and buy local.”

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To report an incident, contact the NRW incident line, 24 hours a day on 0300 065 3000 or email icc@naturalresourceswales.gov.uk.


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Hunting

National Trust joins Natural Resources Wales in banning trail hunting on its land

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The National Trust’s board of trustees has announced the charity will no longer issue licences for trail hunting on Trust land.

This activity has been suspended on Trust land since November 2020 following a police investigation into webinars involving huntspeople discussing the practice. 

In October, the then director of the Masters of the Fox Hounds Association (MFHA) was found guilty of encouraging the use of legal trail hunting as a screen to carry out the unlawful chasing and killing of animals. 

At the charity’s Annual General Meeting in October 2021, members voted by 76,816 to 38,184 in favour of banning trail hunting on National Trust land.  

Harry Bowell, Director of Land and Nature said: “The board of trustees has carefully considered this issue. Its decision to issue no further licences for trail hunting is based on a wide range of considerations. These include – but are not limited to – a loss of trust and confidence in the MFHA, which governs trail hunting, the vote by National Trust members at our recent AGM, the considerable resources needed to facilitate trail hunting and the reputational risk of this activity continuing on our land.”   

Hunting wild mammals with dogs was banned in England and Wales by the Hunting Act of 2004. Following the National Trust’s 2017 AGM, the conservation charity introduced a dedicated Trail Hunting Management Team, which oversaw the licensing process and monitored trail hunting activity against the terms of the new licences.  

Since then, the Trust has seen both compliant and legitimate activity, but also multiple reported breaches.  

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The move by National Trust follows that of Welsh environment body Natural Resources Wales who also banned the practice earlier this month.

Dominic Driver, Head of Land Stewardship for NRW, said: “We have carefully considered the court ruling and our role before coming to a decision at the Board meeting, which we held in public session. The Board has decided not to renew our agreement with the Master Fox Hounds Association.

“The outcome of the court case against a senior leader of the MFHA has resulted in a loss of confidence in the organisation’s ability to ensure its activities are carried out within the law and terms of its agreement.

“In order to assure ourselves properly that trail hunting on our estate wasn’t being used as a cover for illegal activity, we would have to invest in skills and resources that we currently don’t have, to police it properly. Given what has historically been a minor use of the land we manage, this does not represent good use of our limited resources.

“As all trail hunting was managed under the same agreement, all trail hunting activity on the NRW-managed estate will end with immediate effect.”

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The move by Natural Resources Wales was welcomed by the RSPCA.

RSPCA head of public affairs David Bowles said: “This is a very welcome move from Natural Resources Wales, and marks a major step towards curtailing illegal hunting.

“The use of the scent of dead animals such as foxes as used by trail hunts is totally unnecessary as it can result in the hounds chasing live foxes rather than following the scent trail. There are other alternatives, such as drag hunting, in which hounds follow an artificially laid scent which is not derived from animals, so does not pose a threat to wildlife.

“We are concerned that legal trail hunting is being used to create a smoke screen to allow illegal hunting with dogs to continue, as a recent successful prosecution showed where hunters were encouraged to use trail hunting as a cover for illegal fox hunting – so this move to ban is wholly welcome, and we urge other landowners to follow suit in the interests of animal welfare.”

(Lead image: National Trust)

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Environment

Grazing cows to save rare butterflies

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Cattle have returned to Crynant’s Rhos Common this year for the autumn season.

Butterfly Conservation, PONT Cymru, Natural Resources Wales and Neath Port Talbot Council’s Countryside and Wildlife Team have been working together with local farmers to enable cattle to graze on the common once again.

This will benefit local wildlife and reduce hazards such as grass fires and flooding.

Grazing will help to better maintain the purple moor grass and rush pasture habitat of the common. This will benefit the rare Marsh Fritillary butterfly. This is a threatened European species declining rapidly in the UK. However, the butterfly has a stronghold in the Ystradgynlais and surrounding area and conservationists are working hard to preserve the populations.

Allowing cattle to graze the land will also reduce the potential fire load and hence the risk of deliberate grass fires. It will also improve the ability of the common to hold water, helping to reduce flooding during periods of wet weather.

Councillor Annette Wingrave, Neath Port Talbot Council’s Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Sustainable Development, said: “We at Neath Port Talbot Council are really pleased to support this project. By enabling the cattle to graze safely on the common, we are protecting the habitat that is needed for the rare Marsh Fritillary butterfly to survive.”

Dai Rees, Head of Conservation for Butterfly Conservation Wales said: ‘’It’s fantastic to see cattle back once again which will benefit Marsh Fritillaries, local wildlife and local communities. Working together in partnership brings many rewards and I look forward to seeing the positive results in the future. ’’

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Karl Hopkins, secretary of the Rhos Commoners Association said: “This is great news for graziers of common land, enabling safer grazing. Grazing the commons is important to support biodiversity and help combat climate change in Wales.”.

Cattle have now returned to the common. Livestock may be near to the road and motorists are being advised to take due care and caution when cattle are on the common.

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Carmarthenshire

Flooding and coastal erosion will have to be considered for any future Welsh developments

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Future developments in Wales will have to take into account future flooding and coastal erosion risk caused by climate change the Welsh Government has confirmed

In a UK first, developers will have to work with flood risk and coastal erosion maps that have been made available today that not only show current risk levels, but also the risk posed by climate change.

The new planning policy advice known as Technical Advice Note 15, or TAN 15 for short, will inform future local development plans and decisions on planning applications in areas at risk of flooding and coastal erosion. 

It will be used by the Welsh Government, local planning authorities and developers to direct development away from areas at risk of flooding and coastal erosion.

Climate Change Minister Julie James said: “Flood risk and coastal erosion in Wales is increasing as a result of climate change. 

“Serious flooding events are becoming more frequent and some areas currently at little risk will become vulnerable to flooding as our climate continues to change. 

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“As the National Strategy for Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management in Wales recognises, the planning system can help communities be more resilient to the effects of climate change by locating development in areas away from risk of flooding. 

“Improved knowledge of the places which will be at risk in the future can help keep people safe, by preventing the damage and disruption to homes, workplaces and infrastructure that flooding can cause.”

Flooding in Skewen in January 2021

TAN 15 is clear that new developments of homes, the emergency services, schools and hospitals, must not be located in areas of high flood risk without strong flood defences. 

If a local planning authority is minded to approve any scheme against this advice, Welsh Ministers will be notified and able to decide the application directly.

The Flood Map for Planning identifies four types of flood zone, with each zone having particular advice in TAN 15 for proposed developments. 

The flood zones are based on current risk levels with the addition of allowances for climate change.  They therefore include areas considered likely to be at risk of flooding in the future, enabling planning decisions to take direct account of the expected impact of climate change on flood risk. 

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The Flood Map for Planning is published by Natural Resources Wales, and will be updated in May and November every year, to reflect the latest modelling and data on flood risks.

For all development in areas of low risk and areas protected by strong flood defences, and for less vulnerable developments in areas at high risk of flooding, securing planning permission will be dependent on passing the acceptability tests in TAN15. 

These tests include providing justification for the location in a flood risk area, being on brownfield land and being resilient in the event of a flood.

The new TAN 15 and Flood Map for Planning have been made available today to allow planning authorities and developers to prepare for them coming into force on Wednesday, December 1. 

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From that date, all planning applications awaiting a decision, and all new planning applications, will be assessed against the new advice and map. 

Any Local Development Plan under review and yet to reach the formal examination stage must also use the new TAN 15 and Flood Map for Planning after 1 December.

(Lead image: Natural Resources Wales / Welsh Government / Crown Copyright)

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