The Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales (CPRW) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) have joined Friends of The Gwent Levels (FOGL), the Gwent Wildlife Trust (GWT), and the Marshfield Community Council to call upon the Welsh Government to declare a moratorium on major developments on the Gwent Levels.
The Gwent Levels, declared “an ancient landscape with a special cultural significance” which is “important for biodiversity, recreation, flood alleviation, carbon storage and food production” by the Welsh Government, has been under sustained pressure from developers in recent years. Now, a coalition of environmental charities, groups and not-for-profits have come together to call upon the Welsh Government to take a clear stand and place a temporary moratorium on major developments in the area while a special planning policy is developed.
Spokesperson for the CPRW, Rob Hepworth, says the Gwent Levels are facing a death by a thousand cuts: “The words and actions of the Welsh Government in recent years have supported the conservation of the Gwent Levels as a special rural landscape unique in Wales, which benefits us all in so many ways. The Government has named the Levels a pilot area for a new planning approach to reflect the value of nature in the area, yet major planning applications are continuing to be submitted and could be considered and consented before the new plan is in place.
“The Gwent Levels is a unique historic landscape, a nationally designated wildlife site as well as being a vital source of food, a resource for carbon storage and a natural defence against flooding. The Welsh Government has recognised its value and must ensure that is clear to everyone.” Said Hepworth.
Following his decision in 2019 to reject proposals to develop the M4 across the Gwent Levels, the First Minister for Wales stated that “he attached particular weight to the fact that the project would have a substantial adverse impact on the Gwent levels SSSIs … and a permanent adverse impact on the historic landscape of the Gwent Levels.” Since then, Ministers have committed the Government to conserve the Levels.
Alun Prichard, RSPB Cymru Director added that a temporary moratorium would make clear the Welsh Government’s strong ambition for nature recovery across the Levels:
“The Welsh Government has made a welcome promise to protect and effectively manage 30% of Wales’ land and sea for nature by 2030, in line with the global “30 by 30” goal, and recently undertook a ‘deep dive’ into how Wales can deliver this target.
Ensuring stronger protection for SSSIs via the planning system was a key commitment arising from that process, and the Gwent Levels was specifically named as a pilot area for new planning guidance, to mainstream biodiversity, ecosystem resilience and green infrastructure. A temporary moratorium on major developments, while the promised planning guidance is developed, would give this a fighting chance.” Said Prichard.
Yet the various Welsh Government statements on the Gwent Levels do not seem to have led to a fall in applications for development. Catherine Linstrum, from FOGL, said: “There is a biodiversity emergency in Wales as well as a climate emergency, but nature is being left behind by the planning system. Developers make promises to deliver a benefit for biodiversity yet developments are continuing to have a negative impact on fragile ecosystems such as the Gwent Levels, with no penalties being imposed on the developers and no one held accountable. That’s why we are calling for a moratorium.”
Mike Webb from the GWT says that many of the development proposals are from renewable energy sources; “We all understand and agree that action needs to be taken to help combat climate change, including the rapid development of renewable energy, but not at the expense of our most important nature sites, like the Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) on the Gwent Levels.”
At their council meeting in Oct, Marshfield Community Council agreed to contact the Minister saying the Gwent Levels were an important, historic and rare landscape which should be protected for future generations; “The cumulative impact of the many solar applications being submitted for this area will destroy this fragile and complex wetland and needs the urgent intervention of the Welsh Government.”