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Pembrokeshire farmers’ fears over WG scheme

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River Cleddau: 2,000 farms affected

River Cleddau: 2,000 farms affected

WELSH GOVERNMENT plans to introduce restrictions on the activities that farmers can carry out on their land and designated times of the year has been met with scepticism and concern by Pembrokeshire’s farmers.

The Welsh Government has introduced a consultation on its scheme to designate the Haven Waterway and two Cleddaus as a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ). Farmers claim that the move will increase the costs of production, threaten farms’ viability, and have an adverse effect on the Pembrokeshire Early crop.

WHAT IS AN NVZ?

An NVZ designation places a series of restrictions on farmers’ ability to use certain types of fertiliser on their land at prescribed times of the year. The aim is to reduce the effect that run off from agricultural land has on the environment.

The effects of nitrate pollution on the aquatic environment can be significant. High nitrate concentrations can cause a deterioration in water quality and disturb the ecosystems of rivers and other watercourses. Over enrichment of water can lead to a depletion of oxygen levels leading to a loss of marine life and causes increased toxic and non-toxic algal blooms, which make the situation worse by reducing water transparency. Nitrate pollution can reduce not only the diversity of plant life but also damage fish and shellfish stocks, as the algae consume the available oxygen suffocating other life.

In the worst case scenario, anaerobic (oxygen-starved) conditions cause toxic bacteria to thrive and can create ‘dead zones’.

In order to tackle the threat posed by nitrate pollution, in 1991 the European Union adopted rules governing nitrate pollution and sought to regulate the extent of nitrate pollution entering the environment.

UKIP OPPOSES MOVE

Speaking to The Herald in August, UKIP Wales leader Neil Hamilton told us: “With the imminence of Brexit, it is absurd for the Welsh Government to go ahead with consultations on potential NVZs under the EU Nitrates Directive.

“If implemented, these new zones will adversely affect about 25% of the Welsh dairy herd and 50% of the Welsh potato crop. I will oppose strongly any move by the Welsh Government to impose these zones.

“Farmers don’t need to be dictated to. They know what is best for their land and their crops and they should be allowed to make their own decisions based on personal knowledge of their land and weather conditions.”

Notwithstanding Mr Hamilton’s words, the Welsh Government has decided that now is the time – with Article 50, triggering the UK’s departure/divorce from the EU, due to be activated next March at the latest – to embark upon a round of consultations about the imposition of a regulatory burden based on EU law upon farmers already uncertain about the effect of Brexit upon their incomes.

The rationale underpinning the consultation is based on the environmental principles underpinning the original policy. However, the potential impact of agriculture around the Haven Waterway is significant.

‘EXTREMELY COSTLY’

Pembrokeshire NFU Cymru County Chairman, Walter Simon, said: “Up to 2,000 farmers in in the western and eastern Cleddau river catchments and the Milford Haven estuary could face strict limitations on the use of nitrates on their farms and also face the challenge of a whole host of tough new rules due to potential plans from Welsh Government to extend Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) in Wales.

“The Welsh Government are now consulting on proposals that have the potential to bring in 25% of all the land in Wales which is used for milk production and also half of the area that is used to grow potatoes in Wales under a new NVZ designation.”

Mr Simon explained his members’ concerns: “The potential new rules include strict limitations and restrictions on the amount of livestock manure, slurry and fertiliser farmers can spread on their land, particularly during the autumn and winter months and, in tandem with this, there would be very strict requirements on farmers to keep detailed records.

“Dairy and beef farmers would also be required to have storage facilities for slurry and manure for five months from October to March. This is likely to be extremely costly for farmers to implement at a time when they’re receiving very low prices in the market for their products.”

He concluded by questioning the basis upon which the Welsh Government was advancing the plans at this time: “In the context of the EU Referendum decision, it’s very questionable if the implementation of this EU directive should be taken forward. However, if Welsh Government choose to implement this then NFU Cymru is calling on them to base any new NVZ areas on sound scientific evidence. We will scrutinise the evidence in great detail and we’re willing to challenge government plans unless they are robust and stand up to scrutiny.”

‘LONG TERM DAMAGE’ CLAIM

Responding for the Welsh Conservatives, Paul Davies AM warned that excessive regulations could do ‘long term damage’ to the farming industry.

The Conservatives’ Rural Affairs spokesperson said: “Farmers across Wales will be rightly concerned about the Welsh Government’s proposed new Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) designations.

“The regulatory burden will do nothing to attract people to farming and the costs attached to these proposals will put a heavy burden on Welsh farmers, at a time when the Welsh Government should be doing more to support our rural economy.

“It seems that both options would unnecessarily and unreasonably affect Welsh farmers.

“That’s why it’s important that a strong message is sent to the Welsh Government and I strongly urge farmers from all parts of the country to respond to this consultation and make sure their voices are heard.”

WG APPROACH LACKS EVIDENCE

FUW Senior Policy Officer Dr Hazel Wright, who has been representing the Union in the review process, said: ‘‘The FUW has been involved in the NVZ review and has made successful representations on several designations, which resulted in their removal from the discrete areas option of the consultation.

“However, the number of proposed new designations remain a concern and the FUW continues to reiterate the operational and financial impacts those designations would have upon farms that reside within an NVZ area. Given such costs, there must be full justification for any proposed increases in designation.”

Two options outlined in the consultation include the continuation of the discrete approach to designation or the designation of the whole of Wales as a NVZ. A continuation of the discrete approach would see an increase in the amount of NVZ designations in Wales rise from 2.4% to 8%. This would mean significant changes to NVZ designation in counties such as Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Anglesey.

“The FUW remains resolutely against the option to apply the action programme throughout the whole of Wales as this would require all landowners to comply with the NVZ action programme measures.

“There is a distinct lack of evidence for a whole territory approach and the difficulties and costs associated with regulatory compliance for farms whose land does not drain into nitrate polluted waters, makes this option both unwarranted and unreasonably excessive,” added Dr Wright.

2,000 FARMS COULD BE AFFECTED

Mid and West AM, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Climate Change and Rural Affairs, Simon Thomas said: “Plaid Cymru understands that up to potentially 2,000 farms that border on the Cleddau tributaries and the Cleddau estuary area would be affected. These farmers would face the need to make huge investments at a difficult time, for example, in slurry storage.

“We have called upon the Welsh Government to provide those farmers with support to meet the requirements without jeopardising their businesses.

“Natural Resources Wales would be tasked with regulating the NVZs. The organisation has faced cuts in the last Assembly Term. We have called upon the Welsh Government to ensure that NRW has the resources it needs to carry out its duties. As much as possible, both NRW and the Labour Welsh Government should work to achieve the aims of the NVZ through voluntary means and must also examine other potential factors outside of farming.”

NFU Cymru is encouraging affected farmers within the county to get involved with the consultation process. A meeting will be held on Thursday (Oct 13) at The Pavilion, Pembrokeshire Showground, Withybush, Haverfordwest, starting at 7:30pm. Access to The Pavilion for the meeting is via Gate 3, which is 200m past the main entrance to the Showground.

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Education

Delight as foundation phase learners return to class

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PEMBROKESHIRE Headteachers have reported very positive returns to school for Foundation Phase Learners.

All Foundation Phase Learners returned to schools on Monday, March 1st and attendance has been reported at almost 90% since.

The Council’s Director for Education, Steven Richards-Downes, said: “A wide range of council services have worked together to ensure that Foundation Phase pupils have been able to return
safely to school.

“I am particularly grateful to all school staff and families for ensure that learning is now available for our youngest learners face to face.”

Headteachers remarked how schools have filled with smiles and laughter following the safe and phased return of Foundation Phase learners.

Cora O’Brien, Headteacher at Waldo Williams School in Haverfordwest emphasised how quickly learners have settled back in to a routine.

“It has been an absolute joy to hear their laughter in the playground and to observe their love of learning face to face once again. I thank everybody in the Waldo Williams School
community for working so hard to ensure that the transition went smoothly.”

Vicky Hart-Griffiths, Headteacher of Ysgol Hafan y Mor in Tenby, said: “It has been wonderful to welcome all our Foundation Phase learners back to school. They are thriving, being amongst
friends and back to a school routine.  

“All the pupils have spoken about how happy they are to have returned and it’s an absolute pleasure to welcome them back and we can’t wait until we have all our pupils back in school.

“The school feels alive again and there’s a positive buzz and laughter once again echoing throughout the school.”

Gareth Lewis, Headteacher at Broad Haven CP School said children had returned “with real enthusiasm, and have been very keen to meet up with their friends.”

Mr Lewis added: “Our parents have been very supportive and positive about the return, and those with older children are very much looking forward to a wider return to schooling.”

Mr Richards-Downes said plans were now turning to more learners returning to schools in the near future.

“We are looking to the next phases of the re-opening of schools on the 15th of March as long as the government guidelines allow.”

Further details will be released in due course.

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Pembrokeshire County Council: This week’s Leader’s coronavirus update

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL Leader, Councillor David Simpson, has provided a further coronavirus update for Friday, 5th March as follows:

‘Welcome everyone to my weekly update.

“It is with rather a heavy heart that I tell you that it’s almost 12 months since my first statement on the coronavirus pandemic.

“On 9th March 2020, I addressed our Cabinet meeting with the following words:

“Further to the news yesterday that two people in Pembrokeshire had tested as positive for the Covid 19 virus, I am sure you will join me in wishing them both a speedy and full recovery.

“I can reassure you that our services will continue as usual, and all our employees can continue to attend to their work, appointments, schools and services as they normally would.

“We should all help protect ourselves and our communities by following Public Health Wales advice, particularly around washing hands and using a tissue for symptoms associated with cold and flu and then safely disposing of it.

“I am grateful to the co-operation and hard work of all of our staff and we will provide further updates and information when we have them.

“In the meantime I can confirm that detailed planning arrangements, both internally, with partner agencies and through the Dyfed Powys Local Resilience Forum, are well underway to ensure that the Council and Pembrokeshire are as well placed as possible for whatever challenges we may face. Thank you.”

“I am sure you will join me while I take a moment now to remember all those people in Pembrokeshire and further afield, who, very sadly, passed away since I made that announcement.

“I continue to be incredibly grateful, as I’m sure you are, to everyone who is helping to beat this pandemic, working so very hard now for over a year.

“We are fortunate now to be in a position where the vaccine programme is protecting older members of our community and starting to roll out among one of the biggest groups – the over 65s and those with underlying health conditions.

“This time next week (12th March) the Welsh Government will have notified us of their plans for the next three weeks.

“In the meantime, we remain in Alert Level 4 and the stay at home message continues to be more important than ever as we reach the threshold of better times.

“I wish you all a good weekend and thank you once again to the vast majority of wonderful Pembrokeshire residents who are doing the right thing and waiting patiently at home for restrictions to lift.

“We do really appreciate your efforts and determination to help bring this pandemic to an end.”

 

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Sergeant Hillier ‘died doing the job he loved’, says his heartbroken father

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THE ARMY SERGEANT who died after being injured in a live firing exercise, has been named locally.

The incident occurred at Castlemartin Training Area, and led to the death of Sgt Gavin Hillier, who was in the Welsh Guards.

In a post on social media, his father wrote: “Absolutely devastated to be writing this post, probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

“At 3.45am this morning I received a phone call that will forever change my life. My eldest son Gavin Mark Hillier was in a fatal accident yesterday in the army (the job he loved).

“Sleep tight & rest in peace son. I’m so proud of you. Goodnight and god bless, love your heartbroken dad.”

An Army spokesperson said: “It is with great sadness we can confirm the death of a soldier on March 4.

“Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this tragic time.

“The circumstances surrounding this death are being investigated and it would be inappropriate to comment any further.”

It is understood that Sergeant Hillier, who served as part of the Welsh Guards’ motor transport platoon, was due to be deployed to Iraq and had previously been awarded a Long Service and Good Conduct medal by Prince Charles, the regiment’s Colonel in Chief, in 2019.

The tragic incident is the latest in a number of accidents at Castlemartin.

In 2017, The Herald reported that two soldiers died in a tank explosion, which a coroner ruled was due to a design flaw.

The following year, an Army captain was jailed in July 2018 after a 21-year-old soldier was killed by a stray bullet during an exercise at the range in 2012.

An investigation has been launched into the death of a soldier at Castlemartin RAC Range following a military exercise.

Police were called to the site at just before 10.45pm on March 4.

Sadly, a man was pronounced dead shortly after. Our thoughts are with his family, who have been informed of the incident and are being supported by specialist officers.

An investigation is underway led by Dyfed-Powys Police. Officers are liaising with the Health and Safety Executive and MoD.

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