ENVIRONMENTAL campaigners have raised concerns with the Welsh Government over its decision to spend £4.25m on an Usk Valley farm for the Green Man Festival.
Despite the eco-friendly credentials of the annual four-day Glanusk Estate event near Crickhowell, which is being held later this month, conservationists say its takeover of Gilestone Farm in Talybont-on-Usk could threaten at-risk species and cause pollution of the river.
They say the 240-acre site is in an area identified by the Welsh Government for curlews, which are on the brink of extinction, and home to under-threat lesser horseshoe bats.
The festival owners say they will use the farm for smaller events and regenerative farming, plus a brewery and climate-focused work, to create a sustainable future for the event.
And they counter by saying the environment is at the centre of everything they do, while the Welsh Government claims the purchase will meet its policy of supporting rural communities.
The Guardian reported that Peter Seaman, of the Usk Valley Conservation Group, said there were worries about at-risk species, pollution of the Usk, which floods on the farm, and the impact of the business on the small community nestled in the south of the Usk Valley.
“The western end of the farm is the feeding ground for lesser horseshoe bats – exactly the area the festival wants to use for events,” he said.
“There needs to be no light and no noise; having hundreds or thousands of people on site is a no-go for these bats, which are the most protected species.”
And he added: “Like many rivers the Usk suffers from high levels of nitrate and phosphate pollution… at the moment there’s a biodigester dealing with sewage but the more activities there are, the more likelihood there is for pollution of the Usk.”
Andy King, official bird recorder for Brecknockshire, added: “The part of Gilestone Farm that they wish to use for events is the area that lends itself to providing a habitat for curlews.
“I have walked that area for 30 years; the bird life is rich there because of the River Usk running along its edge.
“There are more than 100 species of birds in and around the farm. There are curlews on neighbouring land, so we know they love that valley.”
Mark Isherwood, chair of the Senedd public accounts and public administration committee, recently took Government officials to task during a meeting, asking whether they had considered the environmental issues before buying the farm for a private business.
“This is a very environmentally sensitive site,” he said.
“The farm is known to be home to protected wildlife, bats, endangered curlews, and is next to a special area of conservation… so what consideration was given to any pre-existing or potential planning limitations?”
Andrew Slade, WG director general for economy, treasury and constitution, said the purchase was made to protect the future of the festival in Wales, and prevent it being bought out by a multinational company and relocated.
The festival didn’t have the money to buy the farm, so the government stepped in to support its aims of economic development, tourism and the arts, he added.
“The festival is the jewel in Wales’s crown. We have been talking about how to preserve both the potential of the festival but also the brand,” he said.
“It attracts 25,000 people and generates £10m annually for the Welsh economy, and has a social media reach of a quarter of a million people.”
The government has also said: “Green Man is a major employer in mid-Wales, making a significant contribution to the local economy and employing a large number of people both in its main festival business and in an increasing number of related ventures, which place a strong emphasis on sustainable development.
“As a fast-paced growing industry in Wales, it is important the Welsh government is able to continue to invest in effective interventions and provide support both direct to business and to activities that contribute to the development of a nurturing and supportive environment for the creative sector in Wales.”
Festival owner Fiona Stewart met villagers in Talybont in May, and said Green Man had created jobs and they wanted to set up partnerships and training opportunities for young people in the rural community. She said Gilestone would remain as a working farm, but would also include green and sustainable projects.
The likes of Kraftwerk, Beach House and Kae Tempest are headlining Green Man, billed as Wales’ biggest annual festival, from August 18-21.