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Organisers claimed that more than 200 coaches of demonstrators had come to Cardiff from across Wales. Photograph: Dimitris Legakis/Athena/The Guardian
Activism Agriculture Climate Change

Farmers stage mass protest outside Welsh parliament over climate policies

Thousands take part in demonstration as concerns grow that groups denying climate crisis are seeking to exploit campaign

Thousands of farmers have staged a demonstration on the steps of the Welsh parliament to protest against climate policies that they say will wreck their industry.

Flanked by Welsh Tory and Plaid Cymru politicians, farmers gave emotional accounts of trying to keep businesses going and accused the Labour-run government of betraying communities that produce the country’s food.

However, concerns are growing that groups who deny there is a climate emergency, as well as campaigners against net zero plans, are trying to exploit the farmers’ campaign.

Agricultural workers gathered as the Senedd prepared to debate highly contentious issues including the government’s sustainable farming scheme (SFS), its post-Brexit proposal for funding the sector, which includes requiring farmers to plant trees on 10% of their land to help tackle the climate crisis. Also under debate were the problem of bovine TB and strict measures to stop rivers from being polluted by farming practices.

A large policing operation was in place amid worries that farmers driving tractors might block roads around the Welsh capital. Though dozens of people did arrive in farm vehicles, they obeyed instructions to park a few hundred metres from the Senedd rather than attempting to reach the slate steps. Organisers claimed that more than 200 coaches had come to Cardiff from across Wales.

Speakers from the Welsh farmers’ union NFU Cymru said the SFS would cost more than 5,000 jobs and that the turnout showed the Welsh dragon was “truly awake” and ready to fight back. However, one leader, Abi Reader, was booed when she said farmers could help the country meet net zero commitments in addition to producing nutritious, affordable food.

The former international rugby referee Nigel Owens, a farmer in Carmarthenshire, south-west Wales, said that as well as producing food, farming preserved Welsh culture and language. “There can be no food on the table if there are no farmers,” he said.

The most emotional speech was given by Stuart Williams, who described the silence on his Pembrokeshire farm after he lost his whole herd of cows to bovine TB. “As a fourth-generation dairy farmer, it’s in our blood. It isn’t a job; it’s a lifestyle,” he said. “We, as farmers, deserve better.”

At the front of the crowd was Louise Hughes, the wife of a shepherd near Dolgellau in north-west Wales. She said: “A more pressing thing than climate change is Mr Putin. We’re teetering on the edge of world war three. This is about food security. We should be self-sufficient.”

Caroline Morgan, an organic dairy farmer from south Wales, said: “The Welsh government is not listening. They just want rural Wales to be a big carbon sequester. They don’t understand.”

Hettie Sheehan, who was carrying a Ukip placard, said she did not believe there was a climate emergency. “Ukip is the only party into no net zero and supports the farmers,” she said.

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Yellow placards, sweatshirts and even bucket hats emblazoned with the slogan “No Farmers, No Food” (NFNF) could be seen all around. The slogan and tractor logo are attached to a campaign run by an anti-net zero group.

The NFNF manifesto calls for an end to an “obsession” with net zero and has shared a conspiracy theory that climate policies are a route for the World Economic Forum to make farmers give up their land so the human population is forced to eat bugs.

The campaign is run by James Melville, a GB News pundit who runs media for the Together Declaration, which also campaigns against climate measures.

Farming contributes to about a tenth of total UK greenhouse gas emissions and almost half of the UK’s methane emissions. Livestock farming is the main factor, but industrial agricultural methods have have also been responsible for large amounts of biodiversity loss.

Geraint Davies, who farms in north Wales and manages his land for nature, said he had some problems with the implementation of the Welsh government’s proposed SFS but that groups such as NFNF were hijacking these valid concerns.

Anna McMorrin, the MP for Cardiff North, raised the issue in the UK parliament, asking Rishi Sunak at prime minister’s questions: “The prime minister posed for photographs with a group that shares extremist conspiracy theories on climate change and campaigns against net zero. Does the prime minister share their views?”

Sunak responded: “That is no way to talk about the Welsh farming community.”

No Welsh ministers met the farmers. A Welsh government spokesperson said: “We have had a seven-year conversation with farmers to design future farming support and we are committed to continuing to work with farmers to develop the sustainable farming scheme.”



Steven Morris and Helena Horton at The Guardian

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