A Vale of Glamorgan tenant farming family, who are due to be evicted from the land they’ve worked for more than 85 years, say they feel as though history is repeating itself.

Gethin and Mair Jenkins’ family is the third generation to have lived and worked at Model Farm near Cardiff Airport in Rhoose, which Gethin’s grandfather Griffith first ran in 1935.

Gethin was hoping to pass the farm over to his son Rhys but financial giant Legal & General, which owns the land, has served the family with an eviction notice in order to build an industrial park on the farmland.

Mair, 67, has shared with The National the story of how her own father’s family were evicted from their farm as part of the Epynt Clearance more than 80 years ago.

In June 1940, 219 people were forced to leave their homes and land on Mynydd Epynt in Powys after it was sequestered to make way for what is now the Ministry of Defence’s Sennybridge Training Area. They were told it was a part of the war effort.

Mrs Jenkins, originally from Plwmp in Ceredigion, says although the situation at Model Farm is different, it has brought back painful memories of what her father experienced as a young man

“My dad barely spoke about it, he kept it all in. But he was just 16 when it all happened in September 1939 at the outbreak of war.

"He was helping to cut grass around the chapel. A Hillman Minx arrived and the driver was a blonde lady; he always used to mention that part.

“A man came out of the car and announced they were taking over Epynt because they wanted it for a firing range for the army. He told them everyone living there would have to leave.

“Nobody knew where to go but of course they were forced to leave 10 months later. The community was completely devastated and families from 54 farms got scattered across Wales.

"This was a close-knit, Welsh-speaking community and they were annihilated. We still think and talk about it a lot. It’s the sort of thing that’s felt down the generations.

“I know what’s happening at Model Farm is different because Epynt was a tragedy on a grand scale but the individual impact and knock-on effect is similar.

"My son Rhys and his young family are going to lose their home and we’ve had to live with that anxiety for more than two years. On top of that we’re losing even more productive Welsh farmland where good quality food is currently being grown.”

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Model Farm is a mixed beef and arable enterprise. The Jenkins family recently diversified into growing wildflowers and sell the seeds via the internet. They also send free seeds to schools to encourage children to learn about flowers and pollinators.

Gethin, 65, said: “It’s breaking my heart. Sometimes I can push it to the back of my mind but then I’ll be out on the combine and the realisation will hit me. I’ll stop the engine, look out across the land and realise that soon, those fields and that view will no longer be there, and it’ll never be the same again.”

The plans will see 45 hectares of land at Model Farm turned into offices, industrial space and warehouses for the aerospace and related industries. Another 41 hectares is being gifted to the neighbouring Porthkerry Country Park, which is owned by the Vale of Glamorgan Council.

The council granted L&G planning permission in mid-July, despite more than 1,000 objections from the public, which included concerns over flooding, pressures on the sewerage system and a loss of biodiversity. Permission was narrowly granted by the planning committee by a vote of nine to eight.

The planning committee had heard from L&G spokesperson Darren Parker during the meeting that the new development would create 3,000 new jobs courtesy of “a very prestigious and high-profile employer”.

However, details about the identity of the employer could not be made public according to Mr Parker: “L&G has had to sign a non-disclosure agreement, and therefore not even I know the name of this employer. All I’ve been told is that it’s a very prestigious and high profile employer.”

A council spokesperson said: “The council has approved a planning application from L&G for a business park at the Model Farm site, subject to a Section 106 agreement being signed. This land had been identified for this purpose in the council’s local development plan.

“The views of all interested parties were taken into account by the planning committee as part of the decision-making process. All letters of representation were fully considered and due regard was paid to factors relating to transport and the environment.”

Just 12 days after the planning decision, the council declared a “nature emergency” with the aim of setting a no net loss of biodiversity in the county.

In a statement at the end of July, deputy council leader Lis Burnett said: “Having declared a climate emergency in 2019, we have begun taking steps to tackle this problem and have launched Project Zero, our plan to become carbon neutral by 2030.

“But more needs to be done, with particular attention paid to the threat to biodiversity. Protecting biodiversity is as important as tackling climate change.

"The impact of the latter can mean that species and the food they need are out of sync.

"For example, the caterpillars that blue tits and great tits need to feed their young might not be available at the right time of year because the leaves those caterpillars feed on bloomed either too early or too late.”

During the planning meeting over the future of Model Farm earlier in July, statements were provided from ecologists who cited their research into the rich biodiversity in and around the farmland.

They identified a wide variety of species which include animal and plant life, and fungi, many of which are rare or endangered.

Five species of protected bat and dozens of bird varieties have made Model Farm their home, including the yellowhammer, skylark, song thrush and linnet, all of which feature on the RSPB’s ‘birds of conservation concern’ red list.

Welsh Conservatives leader Andrew RT Davies has spoken out against the development of Model Farm since plans first came to light in 2019.

Mr Davies is the local councillor for the Rhoose ward and the Senedd Member for South Wales Central. He farms a few miles away from the Jenkins family and describes the planning decision as “disastrous”.

“Circumstances have changed since the site was included in the Vale’s local development plan,” said Mr Davies.

“There are lots of other properties and land available in the Vale of Glamorgan. Just down the road in St Athan is the Enterprise Park, a brownfield site that has 1,200 acres of land which the Welsh Government has just put up for sale.

“There’s also the cancellation of the road out to Junction 34 that’ll put huge pressure on transport links.

“And above all there’s a loss of quality agricultural land, that once it’s tarmacked over, we’ll never get back. So it’s bad for farming, bad for the environment and bad for the family who are losing their livelihood.”

On July 31, the Jenkins family were served with a notice to quit Model Farm. Their two-year tenancy was due to be renewed on August 2.

The Jenkins’ eviction notice came as news emerged from other parts of Wales about multinational investment companies buying up farmland for the sake of afforestation, which is the planting of trees in order to offset carbon emissions.

Around 12 farms have so far been purchased in parts of Ceredigion and Powys by companies situated outside the country.

It has drawn criticism from people concerned that the multinationals are taking advantage of the Welsh Government’s forestry grant system as part of its push for a National Forest for Wales, and that the nation is losing swathes of productive farmland as a result.

Rhys, 34, said: “Coming up against these big companies, you haven’t got a leg to stand on. We’re just a small family farm.

“We support 3,000 jobs coming to this area, of course. But farms should never be sacrificed when there are plenty of brownfield options nearby. We need to protect farms across Wales because without them, who will grow the food?

“One thing all of this has shown though, is how the community really gets behind issues like this. The support locally for us has been absolutely tremendous. We feel humbled by it.”

The campaign group Vale Communities Unite is planning legal action to challenge the planning decision at Model Farm and has started a fundraising page to raise the necessary capital. They also plan to hold a protest at the Senedd on August 21.

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