Steeped in the rural traditions that have sustained their families for generations, Ian and Rhiannon O’Connor have long dreamed of owning their own farm.
Like many of those who came before them, the couple planned to raise sheep and cattle on the rolling pastureland of Carmarthenshire – a worthwhile ambition, you might think, with Britain’s food supplies under ever-growing pressure, prices rising rapidly and farmers warning of a looming catastrophe.
Sadly, there has been no happy ending for Ian, Rhiannon and their three small children. Their attempt to buy 260 acres at Frongoch Farm came to nothing when they were outbid, not by fellow farmers, but by a giant private equity firm based 160 miles away in the City of London.
A firm that intends to cover the farm with nothing more edible than trees.
Up and down Britain, the price of agricultural land is soaring as financiers and corporations attempt to ‘offset’ their carbon emissions by snapping up farmland and covering it with forest to soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
From Yorkshire to Shropshire, Somerset and Devon, farmers and land agents report that farm after farm has been converted to woodland at the behest of major companies, charities, wealthy landowners and celebrities.
This is on top of other environmental projects such as ‘rewilding’, which are also eating into Britain’s capacity to grow food.
Heathrow Airport, Marks & Spencer, lingerie brand Ann Summers, funeral provider Dignitas and High Street bank TSB have all backed tree-planting schemes to compensate for the pollution they cause. Music label Universal – home to Rod Stewart and The Rolling Stones – is planting trees on sheep pasture in Cumbria.