In March 2022, the Welsh Government, in secret, purchased afarm at Talybont-on-Usk in the Bannau Brycheiniog National Park. The purpose of the purchase (£4.25 million) was, in the words of Economy Minister Vaughan Gething; “We are in discussion with the owners of the Green Man Festival about their potential leasing of the site, to give a greater level of certainty for them to invest in the festival”.
Gilestone Farm is a productive working farm situated in the Usk valley with a Special Area of Conservation and Sites of Special Scientific Interest along part of its boundaries. The farmland itself has been the subject of detailed bat surveys which revealed that the land is an important ‘foraging area’ for local lesser horseshoe bat colonies: this part of the Usk valley is an area of international importance for its lesser horseshoe population with one of the nearby colonies even featuring on BBC Countryfile.
The farm land also offers significant potential for nesting curlew, a now endangered birdacross Wales. The Usk on its boundary has Otter, Kingfisher, Little Ringed Plover, and passing Ospreys.
Unfortunately, the Welsh Government failed toproperly assess the farm for its suitability for its intended uses, andcontinues to this day to misunderstand the special habitat regulations andrequirements that ownership of the farm brings. Therefore, the threat to itsspecial wildlife is real, and this at a time when both the Welsh Government and the National Park have declared the importance of biodiversity.
There is also a threat to the landscape of this area of the National Park. A licensed caravan site already legitimately operates on land adjacent to Gilestone and in the last few months the National Park has granted permission for another adjacent area of land (previously an Outdoor Activity Centre) to be used for camping.
Should the Gilestone farm land be used for festival/large public gatherings as both the owner of the Green Man Festival and the Welsh Government have stated, then there is the probability of tourism/visitor/festival infrastructure and facilities stretching for over a mile along the Usk valley, between the Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountains.
The Green Man Festival is already based at Glanusk 4 milesdown the valley towards Crickhowell. That site is less controversial: it operates only for a few days a year whereas the Gilestone site will operate over a number of weekends. Furthermore, the number of residents impacted by Green Man at Gilestone is many times more than at Glanusk.
The companies behind the Green Man say that if the project goes ahead, they will create “…a more diversified business that supports existing farming activities while fostering new ideas and activities that will support and grow the local economy”.
The new activities will include a brewery, a bakery, a baking school and live events, each attracting up to 3,000 people. The companies which own the Green Man brand claim they will create at least 38 new full-time equivalent jobs and support 300 jobs through its supply chain. They also make the astonishing claim that they will generate £23million for the local economy. If true, that suggests a large commercial enterprise totallyunsuited to this sensitive location.
Creating new baking and brewing businesses will be additional competition for existing, local companies. None of these plans will promote social mobility or diversity or help bring new skills to the area.
It hasn’t told us where its employees are going to live, how they are going to travel to work and what local services they will need.
It hasn’t explained how extra visitors and activity at the farm are compatible with efforts to safeguard rare species and protected wildlife, including otters, curlews and rare bats.
A local campaigning group has commissioned reports on biodiversity, traffic impact, and flooding (most of the farm land floods every year). A community poll was also carried out. In answer to the question “Do you support the staging of large scale (500 people or more) festivals/events at Gilestone Farm?” 217 residents responded. 198 voted No (91.2%). 12 voted Yes (5.5%). 7did not vote but returned forms (3.2%).
In the face of this mountain of evidence as to the unsuitability of the farm, the Welsh Government has failed to carry out any consultation with the community or other interested groups. One was promised before Christmas last year – but we are still waiting.
A local campaign group has been formed ‘Stop the Gilestone Farm Project’ and we appeal for the help of CPRW members across Wales to add your voices to the‘Stop’ campaign, thereby protecting our special landscape, our wildlife and our little communities. Please visit www.stopgilestonefarmproject.com, and sign the petition, consider making a donation, and share this link with your friends and family and neighbours.