By Debbie James

Farmers fear that grazing areas will be lost when tens of thousands of trees are planted to create a £15 million ‘national forest’ across Wales.

Although the Welsh Government-backed scheme offers woodland creation grants to farmers through Glastir there are longer term implications for agriculture from the inevitable loss of farmland.

There are currently around 763,000 acres (309,000 hectares) of woodland in Wales, representing 14.9 per cent of the total land area, but this project aims to plant 4,900 acres a year, rising to 9,800 acres.

Existing woodland will be joined up with newly-planted areas to give people the opportunity to walk the entire length of the forest, from one end of the Wales to the other.

The additional tree cover is also intended to prevent flooding, improve air quality, remove harmful greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, regenerate soil for food and provide a home for wildlife.

The scheme will in part be funded by £10m of funding through Glastir grants for farmers and other land managers to plant trees.

Farmers will welcome the new funding but planting trees on a big scale in Wales could have "a devastating effect on agriculture and rural life" warns Glyn Roberts, president of the Farmers' Union of Wales.

"If you take away the agricultural aspect of the land you take away the backbone of our rural areas - that creates an economy and allows people to live in these areas,’’ he said.

"We have to look at the broad picture and not focus on one element when we're talking about a complex issue like climate.’’

The government will hold meetings and events with farmers, businesses and communities over the coming months to develop a plan to deliver the scheme.

Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford said the project would deliver on a responsibility to future generations by protecting nature from the dangers of the changing climate while creating a healthy natural environment that offers protection to communities from the dangers they face from climate change.

Environment Minister Lesley Griffiths admits that creating extensive new networks of woodland is a "challenging’’ ambition.

"In the coming year, we will be engaging widely so we are able to design the program in a way which allows everyone to make their contribution," she said.

Advisers at the UK Committee on Climate Change have called for significant rises in tree planting if targets on cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 are to be met.