Underwater in 30 years? A Welsh village under threat from the climate crisis

published on Friday, September 02, 2022 at 08:24

Sometimes in the evenings, if the weather is fickle when she walks her dog along the coast, Georgina Salt admits to feeling a “chill” thinking about the vulnerability of her small Welsh village.

But the rest of the time, like most residents of Fairbourne, wedged between an estuary, the Irish Sea and the mountains of Snowdonia in North West Wales, she tries not to worry too much. of the rise in sea level which condemned his village to disappearance.

Almost ten years ago, the decision was made to relocate the village by the middle of the century. If authorities stall in the face of concerns, residents could become the first “climate refugees” in the UK, which is increasingly preparing 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 much faster than a century ago, while the Environment Agency warned in June that communities living on the edge of sea ​​”cannot stay where they are”.

– “Climate refugees” –

As early as 2013, Gwynedd Council, on which Fairbourne depends, a village founded in the late 1880s by a flour merchant and where 900 inhabitants now live, adopted proposals to put an end to the maintenance of the village’s dykes and decided to relocate the inhabitants. within 40 to 50 years.

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

Fairbourne then becomes the first British village to receive such a death warrant, even though it has 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,” she told AFP. “We are trying to convince them to be a bit more flexible.”

Real estate sales plummet, as do property values, and potential buyers find themselves unable to obtain loans.

At the same time, Gwynedd Council is coming under fire for failing to detail its relocation plans.

This is increasingly frustrating locals, who do not understand why they are being treated differently when the nearby village of Barmouth, across the estuary, has not received the same condemnation.

“We were not told where we were going to live (…) how people were going to find work,” laments Angela Thomas, a retiree who claims that the inhabitants live “with a sword of Damocles on their heads”.

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

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

– Slight hopes –

After ten years of doubts, the Welsh government is finally re-examining the question and the deadline of 2054 no longer seems fateful, want to believe the inhabitants.

Experts have been commissioned to re-study the file, including a new study which shows that the initial plan had not taken into account certain natural dynamics or the cost of relocation to the marshes.

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

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

What give a little hope to the premises and allow some real estate sales to be concluded 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 affordable prices and the beauty of the place.

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

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