Rural campaigners have urged both candidates standing for the leadership of the Welsh Labour Party to urgently reset the Welsh Government’s relationship with the countryside.

The Countryside Alliance has warned Jeremy Miles and Vaughan Gething that there is a “ growing disconnect” between the Welsh Labour Party, Welsh Government and rural communities and that it has become urgent to “bridge this gap”. 

The leading rural campaigning organisation, which has thousands of members across Wales, has called on farmers and those who manage Wales’s iconic countryside to join them in signing an e-lobby, which sends an automatic email to both candidates, urging them to answer a number of questions about the future of rural Wales.

The e-lobby, which has already received hundreds of rural voters sign up, states: “The Welsh Labour Government policy seems increasingly driven by ideological agendas, whether attacking shooting and wildlife management or threatening to impose access to inland water. There seems a total disregard of existing rights, evidence and the harm that these policies cause to rural communities, wildlife and biodiversity”.

It adds: “As someone who lives and works in a rural community, I am keen to hear how you intend to bridge this gap. I would be interested in your response to my questions below:

• How do you plan to stimulate economic growth in rural areas, ensuring sustainable livelihoods, and addressing challenges unique to the countryside such as bovine TB?

• How will you ensure that farmers and other land managers can feed the nation while promoting sustainable practices that support the environment and mitigate climate change?

• How will you support and strengthen rural communities, addressing social disparities, improving access to services, such as access to financial services, and promoting overall well-being for those living and working in the countryside?”

Rachel Evans, Director of Countryside Alliance Wales said: “The countryside is our greatest asset and we must work together to sustain it, and I believe the next First Minister of Wales should firmly set the direction for his party to have a proper understanding of, and respect for, those who live and work there and their way of life. There are clearly growing tensions between Cardiff Bay and the countryside and it is in everybody’s interest for the current relationship to have an urgent reset”.

Vaughan Gething and Jeremy Miles are the only two candidates vying for the top job in the Welsh Government. The vacancy came about following the resignation of Mark Drakeford as leader of the Labour Party in Wales.

His replacement - likely to be named first minister after a Senedd vote - will take up the role in March after a ballot of Welsh Labour members.

The e-lobby campaign comes after hundreds of Welsh farmers met at Welshpool livestock market, to object to Welsh government policies last Thursday. Organisers said more than 1,000 people attended to discuss proposed funding changes they believe will hit agriculture hard, with some warning of potential protests.

In recent years, the Welsh Government has drawn significant criticism from rural campaigners over its plans on shooting and wildlife management, its purchasing of agricultural land to plant trees and its threat to impose access to inland water. 

In November, Countryside Alliance Wales demanded an immediate public apology from Labour Senedd member Joyce Watson, after she told struggling dairy farmers impacted by Bovine TB to “find another business”.

The “insulting” comments came during an update on bovine TB cases from Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths, who said that while cases in Wales are continuing to decline, additional testing requirements for the Low and Intermediate risk areas of Wales would be needed.

The e-lobby can be found by clicking here.