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Lost Peatlands project in Neath Port Talbot key in fight against climate and nature emergencies

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With the UN Climate Conference (COP26) nearing its end in Glasgow, Neath Port Talbot Council have said that there is no better time to take stock of what efforts are already underway in our local area.

The council says that the upland landscape between Neath Port Talbot and Rhondda Cynon Taf has a wealth of natural assets, which if managed correctly, can have a big impact on our contributions to the climate and nature emergencies declared by nations around the world – including the Welsh Government. 

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Within this vast area of wilderness lies the most southerly interconnected upland deep peat resource of any significant size in Wales – one of the largest areas of its type in the UK. 

Peatland management is crucial in the world’s approach to achieving its carbon goals – and for good reason. They are amongst the most carbon-rich ecosystems on Earth, storing around 25% of total soil carbon while only occupying 3% of the global land area. 

In the UK, approximately 10% of the land area (2.6m hectares) is covered in peat. Around 20% of these peatbogs are in a near-natural state, with the remaining 80% being modified or damaged. 

Peatlands in good condition act as a carbon sink – locking in vast amounts of carbon formed over millennia – and they can also reduce flood risk, improve water quality, support biodiversity and have a net cooling effect on climate. 

However, when peatlands are damaged, they actually become a significant carbon emitter. It is therefore vital to assess the peatlands we have and determine how best to restore them. This is typically done by focusing on the hydrology of an area, and through restoration works the ‘re-wetting’ of peatlands will allow them to return to their natural state.

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Renewable energy is also a key theme for COP26. Vattenfall’s Pen y Cymoedd Wind Farm is the largest onshore wind farm in England and Wales. Its 76 turbines have a total installed capacity of 228MW which produce enough fossil free power for 188,000 homes annually, around 15% of Welsh homes. 

Alongside extensive forestry and vast areas of habitat that support some of our most threatened and endangered wildlife, the area can truly be classed as a major hub for carbon sequestration, renewable energy production and wildlife conservation.

The Lost Peatlands of South Wales Project is funded by National Lottery Heritage Fund and is currently being delivered by a partnership between Neath Port Talbot Council, Rhondda Cynon Taf Council, Natural Resources Wales, Swansea University and Coed Lleol (Small Woods). 

The project – with Vattenfall and its Pen y Cymoedd Wind Farm as a key stakeholder and contributor – will be restoring up to 250 hectares of peatlands in the landscape above the upper Afan Valley and upper Rhondda Fawr while also actively managing 491 hectares of natural habitat for biodiversity in its project area. 

Peatland restoration works are underway within the wind farm habitat management area, with more scheduled at other sites over the coming winters through to 2024. 

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Cllr Annette Wingrave, Neath Port Talbot Council’s Cabinet Member for Streetscene and Engineering said: “As well as supporting local habitats, the Lost Peatlands project will encourage local residents and visitors to enjoy, appreciate and engage with this important landscape and see afresh why this area was once known as the ‘Alps of Glamorgan’”. 

Frank Elsworth, Vattenfall’s Head of Market Development UK for Onshore Wind said: “The transition to net zero has so many benefits, including wind farms enabling improvements to the natural environment through their habitat management plans.

“The Lost Peatlands Project and the Habitat Management Plan at Pen y Cymoedd Wind Farm will restore this beautiful landscape and important wildlife habitat, benefitting both the climate and local communities.”

(Lead image: Neath Port Talbot Council)

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Environment

Independent review of floods announced to help Wales adapt to climate change

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An independent review of flooding events across Wales during the winter of 2020-21 has been launched, the Welsh Government has announced.

Led by one of the UK’s leading barristers, the review will help ensure Wales learns from previous flooding events and embeds good practice for the future.

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The review, which is part of the Co-operation Agreement between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru, will consider evidence from investigations carried out by local authorities and Natural Resources Wales, as well as other relevant reports.

Since Storm Dennis wreaked havoc across the country in February 2020, Wales has experienced a rapid increase in the frequency of storm and flood events than at any other time in recorded history.

Heavy rainfall and storms are likely to become more frequent as a result of climate change.

The Minister for Climate Change has appointed Professor Elwen Evans QC, one of the UK’s leading barristers, to lead the review.

Professor Evans will be tasked with establishing key findings, shared concerns, lessons learned, successes and good practice, as well as identifying areas for improvement.

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Minister for Climate Change, Julie James said: “The terrible flooding we have witnessed in Wales in recent years is a stark reminder of the challenges we face from climate change. These increasingly frequent, powerful weather events create widespread trauma, disruption and financial loss for families and businesses.

“We have put a thorough flood strategy in place and recently announced the largest ever package of investment to reduce flood risk across Wales, with more than £214m over the next three years to help protect at least 45,000 homes from flood risk.

“It is vital we learn from previous events to prepare us for the future, and I am delighted Professor Evans, who brings substantial experience and authority, has agreed to lead the independent review.”

Designated Member, Sian Gwenllian said: “We have seen the devastating impact flooding can have on our communities and businesses. Alongside taking action on climate change and ensuring Wales plays its part to tackle it, addressing flood prevention and learning from the devastating 2020-21 floods will make a difference to people’s safety and peace of mind across Wales.

“I have been working closely to develop the scope and approach to delivery of this important review as part of the Co-operation Agreement, and I look forward to the findings.”

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The announcement of the independent review follows the record £214m investment in flood risk as part of the Co-operation Agreement between Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru, which will protect at least 45,000 homes.

This will support Flood Risk Management Authorities, accelerate the delivery of prevention schemes, and build resilience in the system as climate change intensifies.

(Lead image: Neath Port Talbot Council)

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Environment

Cadle Heath is alive with the sound of critters

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From endangered bats to moths, beetles and unusual critters, a Swansea suburb is giving locals an opportunity to discover exactly what’s living on their doorstep.

The Cadle Heath BioBlitz event funded by the Swansea Nature Partnership on Saturday, May 14, is a day packed with scavenger hunts, guided walks, opportunities to learn about the wildflowers, bugs birds, reptiles and mammals and help to gather important nature data by recording the unusual species living in this urban heath.

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This nature reserve is one of Swansea’s best kept secrets and stretches from behind Swansea Community Farm on Carmarthen Road, to popular shopping-destination, Pontarddulais Road Retail Park.

The event, which is organised by Swansea Community Farm, South East Wales Biodiversity Records Centre and Penderi Green Regeneration project, will take place between 10am and 3pm at the farm. Followed by a bat walk at 8.30pm, giving people the chance to listen for the elusive, red-listed, Lesser Horseshoe Bat in its natural habitat.

Kate McCabe from Pobl, leading on the Penderi Green Regeneration Project, said: “This is an exciting event for us. Cadle Heath is one of the best examples of urban heathland in the country and we are proud to have such a rich, exciting space for nature in the heart of Swansea’s Penderi region. The fact that the heath is home to a red-listed bat species is something we should be really proud of and something we should protect and celebrate.”

“Cadle is in such a highly populated part of Swansea that it is often overlooked, and people don’t often realise the hidden haven that exists for local wildlife. This family-friendly event will really bring the area to life, giving people a unique opportunity to really explore the area with the guidance of passionate scientists and nature experts.”

Katharine Aylett, from Swansea Community Farm, said: “We are proud to be hosting such an important and exciting event for the area, and to be partners of Pobl’s Penderi Green Regeneration Project. At Swansea Community Farm, we know the positive effect activities like this have on the community and local wildlife; it’s about raising awareness of the natural world and bringing people together, outdoors. 

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“The Penderi Green Regeneration Project itself, is vital to the area and is already having a clear impact on this part of Swansea. We’re looking forward to working with them on future events and initiatives.”

The Penderi Green Regeneration Project is an initiative to support local people in their desire to improve green spaces in their area which will help boost health and wellbeing. Through a series of physical and educational opportunities, the initiative will bring the wider neighbourhood together to regenerate green spaces in the Penderi area of Swansea.

Funded by UK Government, under the Community Renewal Fund (CRF), Pobl Group is able to deliver the Project with the help of key partners, Swansea Environment Centre, Room To Grow and the Conservation Team at Swansea Council.

For more information on the free event, visit: www.swanseacommunityfarm.org.uk

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First Minister celebrates 10 years of the Wales Coast Path

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The First Minister will celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Wales Coast Path with a visit to meet volunteers and walkers.

A year long programme of events and activities celebrating the Wales Coast Path will take place throughout 2022, including walking festivals, virtual challenges and art installations.

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Since its opening in 2012, the Wales Coast Path has established itself as a beacon of our nation’s natural beauty.

The 870 mile path guides walkers along Wales’ picturesque coastline, weaving its way past a hundred beaches and sixteen castles.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “The coastal path is one of the crowning glories of Wales and one of the proudest achievements of devolution.

“I would like to thank all those involved in the management of the path. Particularly the staff and volunteers, who are out in all weathers, working hard to maintain the path to such high standards.

“If I had to choose my favourite stretch of the path, the portion between Pendine and Amroth would be a candidate: starting in my own home county of Carmarthenshire, and ending in Pembrokeshire. It may not be the most well-known part of the path, but it offers huge variety: some challenging climbs, outstanding variety of flowers, secret coves and plenty of historical interest”.

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The Welsh Government will build on the successes of the first ten years so that more people are able to enjoy the path, from more backgrounds, more easily, and with more benefits for local communities, businesses and the environment.

The Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters MS, asked Huw Irranca-Davies, MS for Ogmore to undertake a review of the Wales Coast Path.

A small group, drawn from academia and the public, private and voluntary sectors was established to undertake the review.

The Group reflected on the key achievements over the last decade and identified how to maximise opportunities for the future.

Their report has been published on the Welsh Government website today (11 May).

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The review recognises the potential value and challenges of the Wales Coast Path. It contains 19 recommendations for the Welsh Government to consider when developing its future strategic approach to the path.

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