BBC Wales' environment correspondent looks back on 2010

By Iolo ap Dafydd
BBC Wales environment correspondent

Image caption,
The arguments surrounding the badger cull continued to dominate headlines in 2010

2010 has been a case of reporting on culling, cuts, costs of energy and the climate.

The year between the UN talks on climate change in Copenhagen and Cancun has also been given the added colour of harsh winters in Wales.

The long-running policy of reducing bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle in west Wales has meant almost monthly stories on whether to cull badgers in Pembrokeshire or not.

Expect to read more in 2011.

The mostly local discontent became global after a videoed confrontation at the Brithdir Mawr commune near Newport in Pembrokeshire was posted on the internet, following a stand-off between anti badger culling activists and Dyfed-Powys police.


The authorities were trying to escort a national assembly vet and a couple of masked contract workers to count the number of badger setts there.

Tony Haigh was among those arrested for obstructing police officers and government officials, and says he doesn't want to allow armed strangers onto his land:

"We wanted to stop any killing of badgers and I felt it was outrageous that they came on our land, ignoring the wishes of people who live here and saying they were coming to kill badgers every year for the next five years, whatever people here thought about it."

The real blow in delaying a cull of badgers took place in the law courts.

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£100m - the cost of compensating farmers for their slaughtered cattle

Despite battling to halt the increase of bTB, the assembly government managed to lose a Court of Appeal hearing to the Badger Trust on 13 July.

The result: a climb down by the Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones, and no cull in 2010.

The cost of compensating farmers for their slaughtered cattle keeps rising - more than £100m in the past decade.

At a time of cuts, how sustainable can that be? This is why probably a second consultation on culling badgers has taken place, and despite an election in May, it seems the Welsh coalition of Labour-Plaid Cymru is as keen as the British Conservative-Liberal Democrat government to start shooting badgers as one way of trying to reduce the disease.

The majority of commercial farmers see bTB as a blight on their cattle and ability to run their farms profitably.

Stephen James is the NFU's vice president in Wales and farms near Clunderwen, Pembrokeshire. He isn't convinced that vaccination is a better answer than culling:

"The level of disease in wildlife is at such a high level, we've got to reduce that level of disease before a vaccine can become effective. And, of course, the vaccine is still in its early stages - and still an injectable vaccine.

"Until a successful oral vaccine is found, it isn't practical to vaccinate badgers."

Another major theme in the autumn has been the cutbacks - and again the effects of these cuts will be felt next year.

The chancellor's Spending Review in October gave way to the Welsh Assembly Government's draft budget last month. The rural affairs department is to cut £7m from its budget - but will lose £9m by 2014.

The much larger environment, sustainability and housing department is to lose £61m next year, rising to £101m in three years' time.

Dr Calvin Jones from the Cardiff Business School feels the assembly government will focus more on spending in devolved areas - like health and education - rather than on the environment and combating climate change in future.


"What wins votes is promises to protect frontline services, particularly education and health.... We in Wales think of ourselves as being socially aware. Politicians know that, and so prioritise what resonates with the public.

"And especially with the climate change debate which has had some knocks last year, you can see an implicit stepping away from these areas in favour of protecting areas which are more immediate vote winners."

Image caption,
Combined steam and gas power station, Newport

Energy, especially how much it costs has been in the news.

A recent statement in the House of Commons by the Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne could result in our monthly bills increasing by hundreds of pounds a year by the end of the decade, as more and more investments in low carbon electricity are needed to lower carbon dioxide emissions.

New power stations are being built - a gas fired one near Newport completed, and another huge half finished one near Pembroke Dock.

But despite the call for more green energy, the opposition to wind turbines doesn't seem to be going away.

Broadcaster and naturalist Iolo Williams is one of many with strong views:

"I think there's a case of Nimbyism, but it goes beyond that. These wind farms are not efficient, not particularly green either.

"Think of the energy that goes into building them, you need to get them up in the first place, and you need to build new roads, destroy country lanes, rip up hedgerows and alter the hydrology of much of our moorland."

But these new steel wind mills also create jobs - around 100 at a new factory near Chepstow preparing turbines for new British wind farms, and potentially more at Anglesey in the future.

Next year though, different politicians may have to deal with old problems. Jane Davidson stands down as environment minister.

But, at the end of the International Year of Biodiversity - and especially after the despondency at the Copenhagen climate change summit a year ago - careful pledging by leading nations in Cancun has offered a slightly more optimistic note at the end of 2010.

But Welsh policies focusing on smaller green issues like the five pence charge on single issue carrier bags hasn't impressed Sara Penrhyn Jones, who went to the Mexico summit as an environmental activist:

"Local and environmental policies are important, but then when you consider the dramatic consequences of global climate changes, I can't lose any sleep over plastic bags and paying five pence or two pence for them.

"The important decisions we make as individuals count, but we have to think far more intensely/deeply about our carbon footprint and the implications world wide."