An ambition by a London-based private equity firm to plant a Carmarthenshire sheep farm with mostly conifers to offset its clients’ carbon emissions is being revised after strong opposition by the local community.

People living and farming in the Cothi Valley launched a petition in reaction to the afforestation plan by the Foresight Group for Frongoch Farm in Cwrt-y-Cadno.

The company had bought the livestock farm and three others and had indicated its intention to use Frongoch as a carbon offset for the activities of clients; that plan includes planting 40 hectares with three blocks of Douglas fir, Sitka spruce and western red cedar.

What it hadn’t reckoned on was the scale of opposition to its plans for Frongoch, not only to the loss of productive farmland but to opportunities lost to support biodiversity by planting native broadleaf specifies instead of conifers.

More than 17,000 people signed a petition and campaigners have now been given an assurance that there will be a rethink, says Rhiannon Lewis, who organised that petition.

At a recent meeting with local residents, she said Foresight’s representatives had indicated that fields on the farm’s lower ground, which are currently grazed with sheep by a local farmer, would not be planted with trees.

Mrs Lewis described this as a “major concession’’ but said that assurance needed to go a step further and be legally binding in the form of a covenant to protect the land from future planting.

But she also urged Foresight to consider selling the land to a local farmer – one had hoped to buy it and live there with his family before Foresight came in with a higher offer, she added.

The Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) said the petition against the afforestation of the farm, described as “an ancient area of exceptional beauty’’ had reflected “genuine concerns’’ in the Cwrt y Cadno community and across Wales.

FUW policy officer Teleri Fielden said the union was pleased that this was now being taken into consideration by Foresight.

“In the 20th century we saw entire rural communities lost to vast forestry plantations in Wales, and FUW members are extremely concerned that we are seeing a new 21st century landgrab as outside companies buy up Welsh farmland to cash in on the carbon market,’’ she said.

The FUW, said Ms Fielden, was opposed to this type of speculation and displacement of Welsh ownership.

“We need to see land ownership remaining in the hands of local people and opportunities created for young farmers and tenants, rather than seeing local people priced out of the market by outside investors, and tree planting happening in ways which work alongside agriculture and are sympathetic to our landscape and the communities which depend on it,’’ she said.

Foresight said it had made adjustments to its initial scheme to accommodate the key concerns of the local farming community.

“A fundamental part of Foresight’s approach to forestry is to listen to and work closely with the local community,’’ said a spokesperson for Foresight Sustainable Forestry.

It had acted upon concerns relating to Frongoch and was continuing to engage with the community, the spokesperson added.

"Importantly, at each of our Welsh sites – including Frongoch – we don’t plant on arable land, the wide variety of commercial and non-commercial trees which we are planting will help improve biodiversity levels, and at least 25 per cent of every site will be planted with native broadleaves.”