Wales Environment Link (WEL) recently held its AGM—like everyone else online. It was to have been a celebratory event for WEL’s thirtieth anniversary but, as the chair, Roger Thomas, said, this was a year of low-key celebrations. So it was marked with a few words from me to the assembled Zoom-faces, because Beverley Penney (former director of Ramblers Cymru and now the representative for the Open Spaces Society) and I were the only two who had been members since the start.
I recalled that the catalyst for bringing the environmental voluntary bodies together to form the WEL network was the prospect of the environmental agencies, the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council (NCC), merging. The Council (now Campaign) for the Protection of Rural Wales took the lead in calling us together in 1999.
We were concerned that, in any merger of the government agencies, nature conservation would trump access and countryside protection because there were laws and targets for nature and not for access or countryside. Moreover, it was likely that the new body would be based in Bangor, in the NCC offices, retaining more NCC staff than Countryside Commission staff, with consequent loss of expertise in countryside and access issues.
By 1990, the merger was inevitable with the formation of the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW), and it was based in Bangor. So we got our act together and formed Wales Wildlife and Countryside Link (later renamed WEL), on 1 November 1990 at the Oriel Davies gallery in Newtown. Beverley Penney has been the secretary from the start and is now also a trustee.
Our early task was to ensure that CCW understood WEL members’ views. We know that nature and access go hand in hand, they always have done and always will. The work has continued with CCW’s successor, Natural Resources Wales, which was formed in 2013.
At the AGM I paid tribute to WEL’s work and growth over the last 30 years. I am sure that the original group would have been pleased to know that WEL has become such an influential and coherent organisation that brings all the non-governmental organisations’ interests together to speak with one voice, and powerfully.
Diolch yn fawr WEL.