Building on the benefits significant European funding has brought to projects in rural Wales and the commitment of communities who have delivered them will be crucial as we look to the future.
This is the message from Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths ahead of a 200-plus guest event beginning today at the Royal Welsh Showground in Builth Wells to celebrate the work of rural Wales.
For decades Wales has benefitted from support through the European Union’s Rural Development Programme (RDP). With the UK’s exit from the EU, this support is coming to an end, and the Welsh Government is now developing a truly Welsh approach to supporting the rural economy.
Activity through the RDP has been extensive, diverse and successful. This event, which includes a number of speakers and exhibitions, provides an opportunity to recognise and praise people’s work.
RDP funding has supported a project at Caswell Bay on the Gower Peninsula to help make the beach more accessible, inclusive and accommodating for those with physical and learning disabilities.
The support has helped create new facilities consist of a self-contained unit, complete with hoist, shower and changing bed and it is the first Changing Places facility on Gower.
The project has made a difference to thousands of residents and visitors with severe disabilities, who now have access and can enjoy the waters at Caswell Bay and have a dignified experience when changing and washing in a facility which is fit for purpose and meets their complex needs and requirements.
In Wrexham, the RDP supported the North Wales Wildlife Trust to initiate the ‘Biodiversity means business’ project. Through a collaborative approach involving businesses, landowners, farmers and community groups, the scheme has helped protect and improve ecosystems, habitats and species.
Adrian Lloyd Jones, North Wales Wildlife Trust Living Landscapes Manager said:
I am delighted to watch the unique partnership between the industrial and ecological aspects of this area strengthen day by day. While a business needs a sound foundation to grow, so does an ecosystem.
This project, with business and conservation working together, has given back to nature and allowed all forms of life,be they human, flora or fauna, to benefit and thrive, making life better for future generations.
At the beginning of the RDP programme, the Welsh Government set out to boost the productivity of the farming, forestry and food sectors. To date, this has helped create nearly 2,400 new jobs and protect more than 2,150.
The aim was also to create 34,000 training places to foster innovation, knowledge transfer, co-operation, more sustainable farming practices and stronger rural businesses. This has almost tripled, with in excess of 90,000 people trained through Farming Connect, food centres and support for the timber sector.
Ahead of the Celebration of Rural Wales event, Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths said:
Our rural communities play a vital role in Welsh life and we have a lot to be proud of.
European Union funding has helped us protect and restore thousands of hectares of our habitats and we are also seeing biodiversity in our grasslands starting to stabilise and, in some areas, improve.
All of this and more could not have been done without the commitment and determination of Welsh farmers, landowners, and the rural workforce.
We face a number of challenges as the impacts of the decision to leave the European Union, the subsequent free trade agreements, the Covid-19 pandemic and now the conflict in Ukraine are being felt across the board.
We are grateful to the European Union for their support, and we must build on our achievements through the Rural Development Programme as we develop a bespoke Welsh approach to meet the challenges and opportunities ahead of us.
In April, I announced an initial £227m over the next three years to support our rural economy. This is only the start and we know more needs to be done, and further support will be provided as we transition to Sustainable Farming Scheme and build a new, green economy responding to the nature and climate emergencies
Working together has always been a real strength across our rural communities and sectors. This will only become increasingly more important as we deliver towards the challenges and opportunities ahead of us.