Vast tree plantations and afforestation plans could have a 'devastating impact' on rural communities in Wales, farmers have told a local MP.
Farmers in Caernarfonshire met with Aberconwy MP Robin Millar, who warned how tree planting has had a 'detrimental effect' on the community, culture and even the Welsh language.
Hosting the meeting at their farm at Llechwedd Hafod in Cwm Penmachno were Dafydd Gwyndaf and his wife Anwen.
Mr Gwyndaf gave a presentation on how the Forestry Commission, as it was previously known, bought many of the farms on one side of the valley and planted trees on the land from the 1940s to the 1960s.
“Afforestation has resulted in too many people leaving the area and has resulted in over 30% of the houses in the area being turned into second homes or AirBnB," he said to Mr Millar.
"It is having a detrimental effect on the community, it’s culture and consequently the Welsh language.
"The depopulation of Cwm Penmachno and Penmachno villages is living proof of the result of large-scale afforestation and we don’t want to see the same happening to other communities."
To make room for the trees, the farm houses were sold, which resulted in them becoming second homes or holiday homes to many.
The population of the area has been decreasing ever since (617 - 2011 Census) which has resulted in the numbers of Welsh speakers lowering to a figure of 55% in 2011 compared to 70% in 1991 and 84% in 1981.
Mr Gwyndaf told the MP: “The promises made by the Forestry Commission at the time included that they would be employing more than the agriculture industry in the area.
"Today, no more than a handful of forestry workers live in the villages as NRW (Natural Resources Wales) use large contractors who come from outside the area more often than not,” he added.
The MP further heard that more land would be sold in the near future at the far end of the valley, amid concern that it would be bought by individuals or institutions only interested in planting trees.
“It’s sure to lead to yet another disaster for the area and resulting in more depopulation, and with that the destruction of our rural communities, culture and way of life," Mr Gwyndaf said.
"We are supportive of planting trees but our politicians need to be aware of the devastating consequences this will have on their constituents if such plans are not thought through."
At the meeting, Farmers' Union of Wales (FUW) officials highlighted that the southern side of the valley was fully planted and many areas still had trees growing there.
The union said this was due to the infrastructure in the area not being good enough to enable NRW to harvest the trees and carry them off to sawmills on the Welsh border.
It pointed to other problems such as creating roads through the forests, which had resulted in rainfall reaching the River Machno much quicker than it was before, causing flooding on the lower, more productive farmland.
Other issues raised during the meeting included stone walls being damaged when harvesting trees, resulting in sheep straying into the forests and gatherings taking much longer.
Robin Millar responded by saying it was 'important' that farmers responded to the call for evidence into the new inquiry 'The economic and cultural impacts of trade and environmental policy on family farms in Wales'.
"It was interesting to hear about the experiences of the FUW members who remember so well how vibrant communities used to be and the detrimental effect the afforestation of the area has proved to have on the region.”