‘A wildlife-rich nation’: Welsh writers imagine the future of Wales

Vegetation under a cloudy blue sky in the Wetlands Nature Reserve near Newport. Picture: Polly Thomas.

Ahead of the IWA’s event at Hay Festival, we hear from leading Welsh writers about their vision for Wales’ future

Ahead of an IWA panel event at this year’s Hay Festival, where Dr Rowan Williams, Professor Laura McAllister and Miguela Gonzalez will talk to Auriol Miller about the work of the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales, we asked leading Welsh writers for their answer to the question: What kind of Wales do you want to live in? This week, we share their thoughts on where the nation should go from here.

Mari Ellis Dunning: ‘Do we want a fair and equitable society?’ 

Imagine if we could live in a Wales in which everyone was housed, in homes they could afford to heat, with enough food in their bellies and access to a viable, fully staffed health service. What we need for that to happen is a full reimagining of what Wales can and should be, and the guts to make it happen. The current social constructs of what a democratic state looks like need reconsidering, rebuilding from the ground up.

During the height of the coronavirus pandemic we glimpsed better — a sky clear of the constant stream of planes, roads without gridlock, lower demand on the vast majority of the workforce. We began to question the relationships we had with big organisations and turn to local suppliers. We saw the UK government paying the masses’ wages while they stayed at home learning to crochet, and baking endless loaves of banana bread. We have seen the full feasibility of working from home for most office jobs, of flexible working hours and a shorter working week. 

Now is the time to think big — to decide, collectively, what sort of Wales we want to live in

Now is the time to think big — to decide, collectively, what sort of Wales we want to live in. The question is not can we make Universal Basic Income a reality, but do we want to? Do we want to facilitate artists, poets, writers, makers and other creators to continue working on fulfilling passion projects while earning a living wage? Do we want to provide for the 40% of Welsh children who live in poverty? Do we want a fair and equitable society for all those who make Wales their home? Do we want more idealists and theologians, and fewer economists at the helm? I know I do.

Mari Ellis Dunning was one of Hay’s Writers at Work

Sam Adams: ‘Re-purposing the former mining valleys’

For me and I suspect many others, thought about Wales begins with what D J Williams called his milltir sgwar. My ‘square mile’ is Gilfach Goch, the valley of the Ogwr Fach and its village. 

Although I left it many years ago, the place is often in my mind, and (as Glyn Jones memorably put it), ‘far more than the scene, the legendary/ Walkers and actors of it, the memory / Of neighbours, worthies, friends’, whose stories then were intertwined with mine. 

Before Covid put a stop to them, I used to attend monthly meetings of the local historical society. They were held (Christian affiliations having fallen away) in a former chapel re-purposed as a community centre. 

After the meeting, if it wasn’t raining, I would usually drive the loop of road around the top of the valley before heading out and away, viewing the scene through the windscreen with a kind of double vision – as it is now and as it was when I was young, occupied by three working collieries and their waste. Reclamation, removing all evidence of the industry that drew my grandparents, has made the valley green again, but done nothing to replace the promise of a living that brought them there. It is the same almost everywhere across South Wales. 

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Coal mining was not for the faint-hearted, as the lists of the dead and seriously injured and incapacitated would testify, but while the industry lasted it brought a vibrancy to Valleys life that has not been replaced. It is not the only question for Wales, but the re-purposing and re-invigoration of the former mining valleys must surely come high on the list.  

Sam Adams will talk about Letters from Wales: Memories and Encounters in Literature and Life (Parthian) with Dai Smith and Emma Schofield at Hay Festival on June 2 at 2.30pm

Julie Brominicks: ‘a Cymru where wildlife and people thrive’

Imagine a Cymru where wildlife and people thrive.

Yet supermarkets seduced us. From afar we still watch environmentalists desperate to avert extremely dangerous climate breakdown and farmers clutching onto livelihoods and language tiptoeing around each other, while hoping no-one notices our terrible shopping habits. Suddenly many of us now depend on imported food cheaper than it costs to produce.

Yet somehow we need to support farmers by guaranteeing a market for their produce and support changes in land use. Through elevating not eliminating agriculture. Yes we need to reduce numbers of livestock, but a low-meat-and-dairy, high-vegetable-and-grain diet is a nutritious one. Imagine buying mostly Welsh produce! We’d have populated farms and machines powered by home-grown fuels. Farms bursting with produce, livestock browsing flower-rich pastures, and wildlife benefiting from a habitat mosaic. We had mixed farms like this before post-war subsidies skewed the situation. And imagine non-Welsh speaking environmentalists understanding the farmers’ plight and strife of ages, vowing to uphold language and tradition. 

Less livestock allows for more woodland. Some for carbon sequestration and biodiversity. Some to yield timber for new or renovated buildings – super-insulated homes requiring minimal heat energy. Energy generated from Welsh resources – offshore and onshore wind supplemented by solar, hydro, tidal and biomass. 

A reinvigorated coast – just imagine! A booming seaweed and shellfish industry! Wildlife-rich urban parks and grass. Blurred boundaries between towns and rural settlements, connected by a public transport system so cheap and efficient we ditch our cars.  

Imagine these possibilities being understood at all levels of government, education, media and commerce. Cross-party agreement! An end to bickering! That we actually want warm efficient homes, reliable public transport, healthy diets, rural employment, diversity, cymreictod and a wildlife-rich nation enough to step up and say ‘yes’! 

Julie Brominicks will talk about her new book The Edge of Cymru, with Tom Bullough and Horatio Clare at Hay Festival on Monday 29 May, 11.30am.

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