Good agricultural land is wasted in Wales to plant trees to tackle climate change, some farmers claim.

Last year the Welsh government bought 27 acres of land on Anglesey, after previously saying it would not do so at the expense of farmers.

Two farmers who also bid for the land said they lost out to an offer they called “way above market value”.

The Welsh government said that a “fair market value” is offered whenever it purchases land.

Jac Williams, 28, farms land near Llanddeiniolen in Gwynedd, and was one of those who put in a bid last year to buy Anglesey land at Tyn Mynydd near Menai Bridge so that he could expand his stock.

After losing in a sealed auction, he found out that the Welsh Government had bought the land, in order to grow trees on it instead.

‘They have unlimited funds’

He said that he offered a “pretty good price” for the site, and that the £14,000 per acre the government paid was much higher than the market value.

“They have unlimited funds, don’t they,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how good your offer is, they can outbid you, no matter what they want the land for.”

Jac Williams
Jac Williams says that hearing that the government will use the land for tree planting was a “further blow”

“The land on Anglesey is some of the best around, it’s good for growing crops. I wanted to put cattle and sheep there, grow silage… to find out that they want to put trees there, it’s a waste,” he said.

“It’s okay to plant trees where you can’t produce food and livestock, but don’t plant trees where the best land is, where you can do something with it.

“Once you have trees there, you can’t go back.”

‘It’s our own government going against us’

BBC Wales has also spoken to another farmer from the area, who wished to remain anonymous, who also said he bid a “fair” price for the land.

“I haven’t heard of land going for a price like that before,” he said.

“My intention was to expand the farm, and to be able to do it full-time. We are trying to build something, and then it’s our own government going against us.

“What chance do you have against them?”

Tyn Mynydd land for tree planting
Once good farmland has been used for tree planting, there’s “no going back,” claims Jac Williams

Last month, Deputy Climate Change Minister Lee Waters told the Senedd’s environment committee he had not seen evidence “that we’re outbidding young farmers in those communities” for pieces of land.

Climate Change Minister Julie James added during the same committee that this “isn’t a war” against farmers.

“This is about us making sure that, together in Wales, we’re growing food in the right places, trees in the right places, protected grasslands in the right places,” she said.

But a freedom of information request (FOI) by Plaid Cymru revealed that since 2018, the Woodland Estate – owned by the Welsh government and managed by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) – bought farmland at five different locations to create woodland, including the site on Anglesey.

Mabon ap Gwynfor
Plaid Cymru Member of the Senedd Mabon ap Gwynfor claims the Welsh government is pricing “everybody else” out of purchasing land

Mabon ap Gwynfor, the party’s spokesperson on rural affairs, disputed the Welsh government’s previous comments about not going head-to-head with farmers.

“Not only have farmers like Jac been priced out, but the government has paid a significantly high price for it, more than the average, which is then pricing everyone else out too,” he said.

The Welsh government recently set a target for farmers to plant trees on 10% of their land, but Mr ap Gwynfor said there were still “questions to be answered”.

The tree planting targets are ambitious, said Dr Prysor Williams from Bangor University’s School of Natural Sciences, and that has led to some tensions.

Dr Prysor Williams
Dr Prysor Williams says it will be difficult for the Welsh government to meet its tree planting targets

“The Welsh government will have to get farmers on side if they want to reach the targets,” he said.

“Ultimately a lot of these trees will have to go on agricultural land. The question is where is the best place to put that woodland.”

Another area of land recently bought by the Welsh government was the Brownhill Estate near Llangadog in Carmarthenshire, to plant a memorial woodland for Covid victims.

But Rachel Evans from the Countryside Alliance, who also lives in Llangadog, called it another example of the government “taking opportunities away from farmers”.

‘Putting rural economy at risk’

“They should not be purchasing the best land – there’s plenty of other parcels of land, rougher land, lowland and upland, that could be used for planting trees,” she said.

“What they’re doing is creating a deeper divide between the farming community and Welsh government, and I really do feel that they are putting at risk the rural economy here, which is underpinned by the farming sector.”

A Welsh government spokesperson said: “When purchasing land, Natural Resources Wales is guided by the value approved by the registered valuer.

“Whilst we want most tree planting to be done by existing landowners, there is a role for NRW in purchasing land where it helps meet strategic priorities.

“This involves a very small proportion of land in Wales, and when it does happen, NRW offers a fair market value, is transparent and non-aggressive.”