So, how much for ‘the best horse’?

You can’t always trust Giraldus Cambrensis (aka Gerald of Wales), the 12th Century clergyman/civil servant who wrote about his travels in Ireland and Wales. Travel writers often put a bit of a gloss on experiences to keep their readers on the hook.

So, you have to take it with a pinch of salt when he says: “Ireland has badgers but not beavers. In Wales beavers are to be found only in the Teifi river near Cardigan.” Not sure about Ireland’s badgers, but it’s interesting to learn a little about beavers and the Wales of 800 years ago.

He might have been wrong that the Teifi was the home of the only population, but I reckon his observation suggests biber-drawingthat Wales didn’t have many beavers left by that time. Which is understandable given that under the laws of Hywel Dda beaver pelts were rated so highly that a single animal was valued as being worth as much as ‘the best horse’.

I do most of my kayaking on the Teifi close to Cardigan. It’s a marvellous stretch of river to paddle, with plenty to see. On just about every trip there are kingfishers and dippers, while from time to time there’s an encounter with an otters.

Beavers would fit in very nicely. Hopefully, Natural Resources Wales will soon approve an application from the Welsh Beaver Project for a trial release of 10 beavers. If it happens, that release won’t be on the Teifi, but is likely to be somewhere in the Rheidol catchment in Ceredigion.

You can have your say about beaver reintroduction in Britain here. I’ve just finished working through the questionnaire myself. It’s part of a project that is being run by the University of Exeter and funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.

What they’re trying to do is get an idea of how the public feel about reintroduction. That may act as a counter-weight to the landowning and angling lobbies; my guess is that Joe Public is likely to be more positive about the project.

I don’t want to undermine what the Exeter researchers are trying to do, so I won’t critique each point here. But I did find myself responding to questions that I couldn’t really answer in the little boxes provided.

Why should reintroduction happen? For me, it’s because it’s the right thing to do. My feeling is that we should try to make good damage that’s been done to ecosystems is a gut thing. It’s a question of what’s right, and what isn’t.

But when you get drawn into a debate about detail it all gets so… functional. You can’t say that something is right on its own terms, it has to be argued as a ‘good’ in a cost-benefit kind of way.

You know the sort of thing: We reintroduced the birdy or beastie (or whatever) and look how it has boosted the area’s tourist economy. Our B&Bs are doing a roaring trade, so that buys the bird or beast its place in ‘our’ landscape.

I understand why it happens. If you’re dealing with people who know the cost of everything, but are hazy on real value, it helps to speak a language that they understand.

However, my feeling is that when you go down the road of talking about ‘natural capital’ and ‘ecosystem services’ you lose your way. If you’ve a moment, take a look at the transcript of this speech by George Monbiot. It sets out a really cogent argument against a way of thinking that monetises nature.

Mind you, I suppose that’s what Hywel’s lawyers were up to.

View on subsidy from down on the farm

How the UK’s relationship with the EU will change our countryside is definitely a hot topic at the moment. And the impending shake-up of farming subsidy has put rewilding right at the heart of the debate too, largely thanks to George Monbiot.

What you might not see is the article about what an end to the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) could mean for Wales in the latest Natur Cymru. It’s worth finding a copy because it’s a fascinating read.

The magazine’s editor James Robertson is a farmer himself and argues that taxpayers’ money should go to farmers who are delivering public benefits, but not to ‘commodity’ farmers.It could bepaying recipients to do things like reducing flood risk, capturing carbon and encouraging wildlife.

Of course, we’ve heard that elsewhere, but he also has interesting things to say about the politics of agriculture.

Being paid to manage land would be an attractive option for many struggling farmers across Wales, he argues, but that they are unlikely to be heard. He predicts that what we will hear – loud and clear – is the megaphone voice of a minority, the commidity producers whose interests are championed by the farming unions.

Brexit’s threat to the lie of the land

All those castles rather give the game away, don’t they? When William the Conqueror’s friends and relations wound up in Wales they weren’t coming to enjoy the view.

Now you may be wondering why I’m on about the robber barons of another millennium, but bear with me. Today, we learned who is currently getting the best out of the CAP payments system.cilgerran

Huge sums of money go to landowners largely for doing not much more than owning land. Apparently, the top 100 shared no less than £89m.

The lucky 100 are a mixed bag, but its no surprise that ‘old’ families seem to do very well from this hand-out. A couple of years ago two economists looked at how surnames relate to wealth, and it turned out that people with Norman names are still doing better than the rest of us centuries after their ancestors’ land grab.

On the whole, a Baskerville, Darcy or Mandeville is likely to be better-off than a Bowen, a Davies or a Morris. No surprise then that as you look down the list of those getting the biggest slice of the farm subsidy cake there are plenty of dukes, earls and the like.

Take the Duke of Westminster, whose distant ancestor was William I’s chief huntsman. Many generations later the current duke’s farming company chases subsidy, winning a handsome £437,434 in the latest hand-out.

You can find out how much your neighbours have had in recent years by visiting the website of the body that co-ordinates UK payments. It lets you put in a postcode and then up comes names and numbers, so I now know that in my postcode area alone 70 recipients share no less than £1.2m.

Brexit means Brexit, and it also means that this sorry system has to change. The situation was summed up nicely this morning on Radio 4’s Today programme by the BBC’s environment analyst Roger Harrabin. If you weren’t up before 7am you can catch up with it here on the BBC website (fast forward to about 35:00).

In a few mintues of chat he takes you from the wine lakes and butter moutains of the 1970s to the current (crazy) arrangement, which sees landowners get paid by the acre. He also explains how that has pushed up land values, which prices many wannabe farmers out of the market.

Of course, things are going to change with Brexit. And optimists look to a future that serves the majority of people far better; for example, George Monbiot says we can bring an end to what he calls the ‘unembarrassed robbery of the poor by the rich’.

It would be nice to think it could happen. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed – but maybe not holding my breath. The current arrangement is a system that has served people who have know exactly when to pull up the drawbridge.