Under water for 30 years? A Welsh village under threat from the climate crisis

published on Friday September 02, 2022 at 08:24

Sometimes in the evenings, when the weather changes as she walks her dog along the beach, Georgina Salt admits to feeling “cold” thinking about the vulnerability of her small Welsh village.

But for the rest of the season, like most residents of Fairbourne, which is sandwiched between an estuary, the Irish Sea and the Snowdonia mountains in North West Wales, he tries not to worry too much about rising water levels. sea ​​that condemned his village to disappear.

Almost ten years ago, the decision was made to move the village in the middle of the century. If the authorities relent in the face of concerns, residents could become the UK’s first “climate refugees”, increasingly bracing for the consequences of the climate crisis after a summer marked by droughts and record high temperatures.

In July, meteorologists pointed out that sea levels around the UK were rising faster than a century ago, while the Environment Agency warned in June that communities living by the sea “cannot stay where they are. they”.

– “Climate refugees” –

In 2013, Gwynedd Council, on which Fairbourne is based, a village founded in the late 1880s by a flour merchant and where 900 inhabitants currently live, adopted proposals to end the maintenance of the dykes in the village and decided to relocate the residents. for 40 to 50 years.

The following year, the Welsh Assembly deemed the village “at a catastrophic risk of flooding” and as a result a plan was put in place to relocate the village “by 2054”.

Fairbourne then became the first village in Britain to receive such a death warrant, although it had not experienced major flooding for generations.

But Georgina Salt, city councilor, believes that the decision of the local authorities at the time was premature and taken without consultation.

“The biggest problem is that they gave a specific date,” he told AFP. “We’re trying to convince them to be more flexible.”

Real estate sales plummeted, as did property values, and potential buyers found themselves unable to get loans.

At the same time, Gwynedd Council has been criticized for failing to detail its relocation plans.

This further frustrated the locals, who did not understand why they were being treated differently when the neighboring village of Barmouth, across the estuary, did not receive the same condemnation.

“We’re not told where to live (…) how people are going to find work,” complained Angela Thomas, a retiree who said residents were living “with the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads”.

“You can’t condemn a village 40 years in advance and not have some form of plan in place,” said Stuart Eves, a local councilor who runs a camp in Fairbourne.

The situation even fueled conspiracy theories. According to Ms Salt, residents are convinced the village is being targeted “because we are a predominantly English community” in Welsh territory.

– Little hope –

After ten years of doubt, the Welsh government has finally re-examined the question and the deadline of 2054 no longer seems meaningful, wants to believe the citizens.

Experts were ordered to re-study the file, including a new study that showed that the initial plan did not take into account the specific natural dynamics or the cost of moving the wetlands.

A spokesman for the Labour-led Welsh government said Gwynedd Council’s decision “does not mean (flood) funding will stop in 2054”.

“As long as we have funding, we will continue to inspect and maintain the anti-flood systems in the village,” said a spokesman for the government agency Natural Resources Wales, which manages the dykes.

Which gives some hope to the area and allows some real estate sales to go through and new residents to move in.

Among them, Mike Owen, who left the North West of England and settled in the village with his parents and his girlfriend, attracted by the cheap prices and the beauty of the place.

“I don’t see how relocation could take place,” said the 23-year-old.

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