Nigel Owens ‘prouder of Welsh farmer address than refereeing Rugby World Cup’

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Nigel Owens has told crowds gathered for the Welsh farming protest that he was prouder to speak at the event than he was to referee the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

The international rugby union referee and professional farmer said it was “an honour” to be addressing the 8,000-person strong demonstration outside the Senedd in Cardiff amid Welsh Government plans for a new sustainable farming scheme.

He said: “In 2015, I was very privileged to referee the World Cup final in Twickenham - the proudest moment of my career.

“But today I’m even prouder to come and speak in front of good, decent people. An honour to be here to speak and to support you today as a fellow farmer.”

The protest is aimed at challenging a Welsh Labour Government proposal that plans to overhaul EU-era subsidies and requires farmers to dedicate 20 per cent of their land to tree planting and wildlife.

Some 5,500 rural jobs and around £200m in farming income could be lost under the new scheme, according to analysis conducted for the Welsh Government.

Thousands have descended on Cardiff today in opposition to the change for what could be one of the largest farming protests Britain has ever seen.


04:17 PM GMT

That’s all for today

That’s all for today. Thank you for following our live coverage of the farmers’ protests in Cardiff.

Check the website for the latest updates.


04:15 PM GMT

Recap

A recap of today’s events as around 8,000 people gathered at the Senedd in Cardiff for a farming protest include:

  • Abi Reader, the deputy president of NFU Cymru, said: “It will be the biggest protest in farming history.”

  • The Welsh Government released a statement that said they “expect changes to be made following the consultation” on the sustainable farming scheme and they “will continue to listen” to those with concerns.

  • The A4232 Eastern Bay Link Road Eastbound was closed as a result of tractors blocking the main road in protest.

  • Crowds booed a farmers’ union leader as she spoke about the industry meeting its net zero goals.

  • Nigel Owens, the international rugby referee, said he prouder to address crowds at the protest than to referee the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

  • Mark Drakeford, the Welsh First Minister, reshared photographs from his trip to Brussels amid the ongoing protest.


03:52 PM GMT

Pictured: ‘Drakeford has gone to Brussels’

A protestor holds a sign reading 'Drakeford has gone to Brussels' amid the ongoing farmers' demonstration in Cardiff
A protestor holds a sign reading 'Drakeford has gone to Brussels' amid the ongoing farmers' demonstration in Cardiff - freelance photos north wales/FreelancePhotosNWales
A protestor carries a sign bearing the slogan 'No Farmers, No Food, No Future,' which has come to be used by the farming movement
A protestor carries a sign bearing the slogan 'No Farmers, No Food, No Future,' which has come to be used by the farming movement - FreelancePhotosNWales/freelance photos north wales

03:50 PM GMT

Mark Drakeford in Brussels amid protests

Mark Drakeford, the First Minister of Wales, is in Brussels for the annual St David’s day reception in the country amid the ongoing farmers’ protests.

Mr Drakeford reshared a photograph of himself and Jan Jambon, the minister-president of Flanders, on X, formerly Twitter, and said it was “always a pleasure to catch up” with the Belgian politician.

Later photographs showed Mr Drakeford meeting representatives of the European wind industry and a UK renewable energy trade association.

A Tweet by Wales in Europe, the official social media account of the nation in Brussels, read: “The message is loud and clear: Wales remains an outward-looking European nation.”


03:24 PM GMT

Nigel Owens: ‘There can be no Six Nations if there is no referee’

Nigel Owens, the international rugby referee, told the crowd he had dreamed of becoming a farmer since he was eight years old and now had a small freeholding.

He said: “I do it because I care, because I’m passionate about the industry that we are in,” adding: “But without farmers there is no food.

“There can be no Six Nations game in Cardiff next Saturday against France if there is no referee. There can be no food on the table if there are no farmers.”

As he spoke, protestors placed wellington boots in adult and child sizes in front of the speakers.

Mr Owens said: “In decades time to come, we want to see people in those wellingtons, not empty ones.”


03:12 PM GMT

Pictured: ‘Labour war on countryside’

A protestor carries a sign reading 'Labour war on countryside' as the Welsh Government debate a new sustainable farming scheme inside the Senedd
A protestor carries a sign reading 'Labour war on countryside' as the Welsh Government debate a new sustainable farming scheme inside the Senedd - Christopher Furlong/Getty Images Europe

03:10 PM GMT

Senedd politicians speak at protest

A series of protests have already taken place across Wales but the event in Cardiff Bay on Wednesday is the largest by far, attended by thousands of farmers.

Alongside an address from Nigel Owens, the former international rugby union referee, the event has also heard speeches from Senedd politicians, including the Welsh Conservatives and Plaid Cymru.


02:51 PM GMT

Why are Welsh farmers protesting?

Farmers are protesting over proposals from the Welsh Labour Government to overhaul EU-era subsidies and introduce a sustainable farming scheme, which would require them to dedicate 20 per cent of their land to tree planting and wildlife.

Farming leaders say the scheme could result in the loss of 5,500 rural jobs and around £200m in farming income.

On Tuesday, the Welsh Government said it would review the plans, which are currently under consultation. But these measures are not expected to placate the frustration among farmers, who have also expressed anger at the Welsh Government’s stance on controlling bovine TB.

With badger culling banned in the country, despite the practice being permitted in England for the purpose of combatting the disease, farmers have seen hundreds of their own animals killed in an attempt to control the spread. One farmer recalled how a pregnant cow was shot on his family farm.

There is also concern over farmers being required to reduce their impact on water pollution, alongside anger at supermarkets for increasingly lower prices.


01:52 PM GMT

Watch: Tractors block main road in Cardiff


01:51 PM GMT

‘Bovine TB cull claimed 600 of my animals’

The impact of bovine TB and the Welsh Government’s strategy for eradicating the disease is a contentious issue among farmers in Wales.

While the Welsh Government has set a target of eradicating bovine TB by 2024, it has banned the culling of badgers, which carry the disease.

Unlike Westminster, which permits badger culling in direct relation to bovine TB prevention, Wales has instead opted for a strategy of stringent testing and culling of cows on farms.

Stuart Williams, a farmer who helped organise today’s protest, said he was forced to witness the killing of a pregnant cow during a three-year cull of over 600 animals on his family farm.

He said: “Mentally, I was gone. It’s only thanks to the support of my doctor, but most importantly my family that I stand here today.”


01:35 PM GMT

Nigel Owens: ‘An honour to support fellow farmers’

Nigel Owens, former international rugby union referee, was one of several speakers to stand on the steps of the Senedd in front of thousands of protesting farmers in Cardiff.

He told those gathered: “In 2015, I was very privileged to referee the World Cup final in Twickenham - the proudest moment of my career.

“But today I’m even prouder to come and speak in front of good, decent people.

“An honour to be here to speak and to support you today as a fellow farmer.”


01:32 PM GMT

Pictured: Protest signs

Protestors hold a sign reading 'No Farmers, No Food, No Future' during the demonstrations outside the Welsh Government building
Protestors hold a sign reading 'No Farmers, No Food, No Future' during the demonstrations outside the Welsh Government building - Robin Formstone for the Telegraph
A cut-out of Mark Drakeford, Welsh First Minister, with the slogan 'Just measure your land so I can take 20 per cent of it' is seen at the protest
A cut-out of Mark Drakeford, Wales' First Minister, with the slogan 'Just measure your land so I can take 20 per cent of it' is seen at the protest - Robin Formstone for the Telegraph

01:21 PM GMT

Turnout of around 8,000 people

Organisers estimate around 8,000 people have turned out for today’s protest on a very wet and grey day in Cardiff.

Many have arrived on buses put on by the organisers, coming from all corners of Wales to join the protest outside the Senedd.


01:17 PM GMT

Nigel Owens addresses the crowd

Nigel Owens MBE, a rugby referee and cattle farmer in Wales, takes questions from journalists
Nigel Owens MBE, a rugby referee and cattle farmer in Wales, takes questions from journalists - Robin Formstone for the Telegraph

Nigel Owens, the retired rugby referee turned farmer, has addressed the crowds.

He said it was vital that the Government recognised that “without farmers, there is no food”,  echoing a campaign slogan that has been spread largely through social media.

He said: “There can be no Six Nations game against France, there is no referee,” before adding: “There can be no food on the table, if there are no farmers.”

He then urged farmers to protest peacefully and “with respect”.


01:14 PM GMT

Supplier ‘fears for Welsh food production’

David Evans, the chief executive of agricultural supplier CFC, said he was at the protest because of his concerns for the wider community.

He said: “If the proposals come through, and the Welsh Government don’t move on TB or nitrate vulnerable zones, I do fear for Welsh food production and the sustainability of Wales.”

As part of efforts to reduce nitrogen pollution in rivers, the Government has proposed new limits on the use of fertilisers and slurry that farmers have said will require expensive investments in new infrastructure.


01:12 PM GMT

Welsh farming ‘striving to be net zero by 2040’

The National Farmers’ Union Cymru (NFU Cymru) have posted on X, formerly Twitter, to outline three reasons to “back Welsh farming”.

They include that the sector is “striving to be net zero by 2040” and to “produce food to world-leading standards”.

They also said the country’s farmers “care for the iconic Welsh landscape”.


01:02 PM GMT

Crowd of farmers boo union leader

A loud boo is heard as Abi Reader, the deputy president of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Cymru, tells the farmers gathered that they are here to help the UK meet its net zero goals.

She said: “We are here to make sure that we are looking after the environment, promoting biodiversity and we are here to make sure that we meet those net zero commitments.”

Her comments were made as farmers have gathered outside the Senedd to protest against the Welsh Government’s sustainable farming scheme, which they say will result in 5,500 job losses.


12:57 PM GMT

Major road closures

Tractors are reportedly now blocking a main road in Cardiff bay.

The A4232 Eastern Bay Link Road Eastbound is closed as a result of heavy traffic from Queens Gate roundabout to Ocean Way, according to the Southern Daily Echo.

The demonstration is taking place in the Cardiff Docks area, with the major road acting as a holding area for vehicles attending the protest.

From here, demonstrators are able to walk to the Senedd where the heart of the protest is taking place.

A police officer speaks with a group of farmers preparing to use their tractor in the protest
A police officer speaks with a group of farmers preparing to use their tractor in the protest - Christopher Furlong/Getty Images Europe

12:36 PM GMT

‘I’m here to secure the future of Welsh farming for my son’

Ioan Humphrys, who farms beef, sheep and chicken in mid-Wales and is expected to speak later, told the Telegraph he was here for the sake of his 2-year-old son.

He said: “I’m a fifth generation farmer. I’ve got a two-year-old son and I’m here for him really. To try and secure the future of Welsh farming for my son, whether he wants to farm or not.

“I feel as if I need to fight for him to have the choice to be able to do it.”

Mr Humphrys said the proposed changes to the subsidy scheme would mean he had to double tree cover on his farm, taking some land out of food production.

He said this would force him to increase the number of sheep on his farm, despite the potential environmental impact.

“I think we as farmers do need to evolve and move on with the future. But these schemes need to be done in the right places for the right reasons, not as a blanket requirement.”

He added that farmers have become “villainised slightly”.

“We’re always made to feel as if we’re the bad people.”


12:33 PM GMT

‘We lost 26 cows to TB’

Liam Price, who helped organise today’s protests, said farmers had been brought together through social media.

He said: “We just want the Government to hear a farmer’s opinion, and to try to work with us, instead of just telling us what the truth is.

“My parents went down with TB and we lost 26 cows with it.

“On our own farm, we’ve planted trees, and hedges, we are already doing these things. But that 10 per cent would take out our hay or silage for our animals.”


12:19 PM GMT

Police say tractors could ‘pose a risk to safety’

South Wales Police has said it is aware of the protest but has asked those attending not to bring tractors.

Superintendent Esyr Jones said: “South Wales Police respects the right to peaceful protest and we are in discussions with the organisers to ensure that the protest takes place safely, lawfully with minimum disruption to the wider public.

“While there is an agreement to facilitate protest activity outside the Senedd, I would urge protesters not to bring tractors or other agricultural vehicles to the protest.

“There are concerns that they pose a risk to the safety of other road users and restrict the movement of emergency services in a busy city environment.”


12:12 PM GMT

Welsh Government publish statement

Ahead of the protests the Welsh Government has put out a statement.

“Farming is very important to Wales and our economy and we want a successful future for Welsh farming.

“We have had a seven-year conversation with farmers to design future farming support and we are committed to continuing to working with farmers to develop the Sustainable Farming Scheme.

“This is a genuine consultation and no decisions will be taken on any element of the proposal, including how we achieve the requirement for habitat and trees, until we have conducted a full analysis of the consultation responses.

“We have been clear we expect changes to be made following the consultation, and we will continue to listen.  The First Minister and Rural Affairs Minister provided an update yesterday on a number of key areas to support the sector.”


12:06 PM GMT

Thousands arrive outside Senedd building

Gareth Wyn Jones protesting outside Venue Cymru during Rishi Sunak's address to the Welsh Conservatives Conference last week
Gareth Wyn Jones protesting outside Venue Cymru during Rishi Sunak's address to the Welsh Conservatives Conference last week - George Thompson/PA

Thousands of people have already arrived outside the Senedd building in Cardiff, ahead of today’s protests.

Protesters are expected to hear from Nigel Owens, the retired Welsh rugby union referee and farmer, as well as representatives from the Welsh farming unions, and several farmers.

Gareth Wyn Jones, who has been dubbed “the nation’s favourite farmer” told the Telegraph he hoped the protests would be “the last big demonstration that we need to do.”

He said: “Farmers are the last people on God’s earth to want to go out and demonstrate, because they’ve got animals to watch after, they’ve got crops to attend to.

“So for me to see so many people here, it just shows you what the feeling is.”

He added: “The most important thing needs to be that it is peaceful, respectful, lawful, and we get the message over to the Welsh Government that enough is enough.”


11:58 AM GMT

Pictured: Preparations underway

Farmers wait with their tractors as they prepare to be directed to a holding area at the Queens Gate roundabout in Cardiff
Farmers wait with their tractors as they prepare to be directed to a holding area at the Queens Gate roundabout in Cardiff - Christopher Furlong/Getty Images Europe
Tractors bearing signs reading "No Farm No Food" prepare for the protest which is expected to attract up to 10,000 agricultural workers
Tractors bearing signs reading "No Farm No Food" prepare for the protest which is expected to attract up to 10,000 agricultural workers - Christopher Furlong/Getty Images Europe

11:10 AM GMT

‘We’ve got your back,’ says Sunak

Rishi Sunak has offered his support to protesting farmers, although the Westminster Government has been criticised for not providing enough clarity on how much farmers will be paid under the new Welsh schemes.

Last week, the Prime Minister told protesting farmers at the Welsh Conservative conference: “We’ve got your back.”


10:50 AM GMT

‘The biggest protest in farming history’

Abi Reader, the deputy president of NFU Cymru, urged concerned farmers to make their voices heard at the protest on Wednesday.

She said: “It will be the biggest protest in farming history, and I think people should be there to be part of it.

“It’s not just farmers getting involved, it’s hotels, pubs, agricultural supply businesses, vets.

“This is an accumulation of problem after problem. We have seen funding cuts, inflation, and now they have brought in the straw that broke the camel’s back with the latest proposals.”


10:49 AM GMT

Good morning

Welcome to our live coverage of events in Cardiff today.

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