Tory MPs' fury at 'bonkers' decision over Brecon Beacons name change

‘This isn’t a top priority for the people who live here!’: MPs lead backlash against ‘bonkers’ decision to drop Brecon Beacons national park’s English name because its Welsh one is more ‘eco-friendly’

  • The Brecon Beacons will be renamed in direct response to the climate crisis
  • National Park to be called Bannau Brycheiniog National Park – Bannau for short

The decision to rename the Brecon Beacons National Park was criticised today by senior Conservatives for being a ‘ludicrous’ and ‘bonkers’ attempt to look ‘trendy’.

Park bosses claimed the link with a wood-burning, carbon-emitting blazing beacon was ‘not a good look’ as the name was dropped in favour of its Welsh counterpart Bannau Brycheiniog – pronounced Ban-eye Bruck-ein-iog – or the Bannau for short.

But Brecon and Radnorshire’s Tory MP Fay Jones questioned the cost and impact of the ‘symbolic’ rebrand and demanded to know why locals were not consulted.

Downing Street said it expected people to carry on using the Brecon Beacons name and actions ‘rather than nomenclature’ were the key to tackling climate change.

And Tory MP Sir Robert Goodwill said that place names like ‘Coalville’ or ‘Blackburn’ might be equally at risk under the logic of avoiding links to carbon-emissions.

From today, the Brecon Beacons National Park (left) will adopt the Welsh name of Bannau Brycheiniog National Park (right) – pronounced Ban-eye Bruck-ein-iog – or the Bannau for short

The launch has been explained in a video featuring actor and activist Michael Sheen (above)

Ms Jones said: ‘I’m amazed that a change of name should be imposed on those who live and work in the National Park without any consultation.

From criticising the royals to returning his OBE: Michael Sheen’s public interventions 

The launch has been explained in a video featuring actor and activist Michael Sheen (above)

Prince of Wales title: Michael Sheen claimed in November 2022 that the Welsh people want the Royal Family to give up the Prince of Wales title because it has been used by the English as a ‘sign of dominance over a defeated Welsh people’. Sheen took a series of swipes at Prince William after he met the England team and presented them with shirts for the World Cup in Qatar and wished them well. The star said it was ‘inappropriate’ for William to do this as the Prince of Wales – a title he believes should only be held by a Welshman.

King Charles visiting Cardiff: Michael Sheen criticised King Charles III for visiting Cardiff in September 2022 on the same day as a medieval tradition celebrating the last native Prince of Wales. The actor called the King and Queen Consort’s trip on Owain Glyndŵr day as ‘insensitive’ and ‘insulting’. On September 16 1400, a 15-year uprising against English rule started and was spearheaded by Owain Glyndŵr. The revolt is considered to be the last Welsh war of independence and Glyndŵr has since been viewed as a figurehead of Welsh nationalism.

Returning his OBE: In 2020, Michael Sheen handed back his OBE eight years after receiving it from the Queen, saying he wanted independence for his home country. The actor said he made the controversial move to avoid looking a hypocrite before giving a lecture on the history of his native Wales – including ‘past wrongs’ committed by England ‘to fracture us, to control us, to subdue us’.

Brexit break-up: Michael Sheen split with US comedian and actress Sarah Silverman, revealing their relationship indirectly ended because of Brexit and Donald Trump’s presidency. The couple parted ways in December 2017 after four years together. He said they split because of long distance – as he went back to the UK to explore why Brits voted in favour of Brexit, while Sarah chose to tour the US to interview people in the wake of Trump becoming president. Sheen said that he and Sarah felt in ‘different ways’ that they wanted to ‘get more involved’ in the political climate after Brexit and Trump’s election.

‘I am worried that this is symbolic. This is about looking trendy and jumping on a sustainability bandwagon for PR purposes.’

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘The public, I’m sure, will continue to … use both the English and the Welsh names.

Asked if other places called ‘beacon’ should be renamed, the spokesman said: ‘I think on the specific issue of climate change, I think it’s tangible action that’s important, rather than nomenclature.’

Welsh Tory leader Andrew RT Davies added: ‘The Beacons are as recognisable outside of Wales as they are here. Why undermine that?’

Historically, beacons were signal fires built on high hills visible for miles and used to warn neighbouring settlements of enemies. But it is unclear if the Brecon Beacons were used for such a purpose.

Conservative MP Sir John Hayes told the Sun: ‘It’s nonsense. As soon as they invented fire they have been burning wood. The people making these decisions are out of touch.’

Sir Robert Goodwill, the Tory chairman of the environment, food and rural affairs committee, told the Daily Telegraph: ‘Next thing they’ll be renaming Burns’ Night.’

He said that place names like ‘Coalville’ or ‘Blackburn’ might be equally at risk under the logic of avoiding links to carbon-emissions.

He added: ‘I think it is more important to retain historical names as part of our heritage. I had to recheck my diary when I heard this ludicrous suggestion just to make sure it wasn’t April Fool’s Day.’

David Davis, Tory MP for Haltemprice and Howden, tweeted: ‘As far as virtue signalling goes, changing the name of the Brecon Beacons is one of the more bonkers ideas I’ve heard in some time.

‘Do the park authorities not realise the massive re-printing and re-signing exercise needed when changing well established names – all of which will be carbon generating?’

And Tim Loughton, Conservative MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, said: ‘So Brecon Beacons National Park named after beacons using renewable fuel to signal occasional emergencies to be named after legendary King Brychan reputed to have had up to 63 children, for climate change virtue signalling purposes. Which was more harmful to the planet?’

Mo Metcalf-Fisher from the Countryside Alliance tweeted: ‘Quite clearly a complete, avoidable, comms breakdown on part of @BreconBeaconsNP. 

‘Consultation and taking people with you through change is vital. All seems unnecessary. People will call Brecon Beacons what they want to call it, regardless of a- no doubt costly- logo change.’

The name will be included on all signage and promotional material in the coming months, but people can choose which one they prefer to use.

Author Henry Hitchings, an expert on language and history, tweeted: ‘So the Brecon Beacons have a new name, Bannau Brycheiniog. This is partly, it seems, because the old name strikes the wrong note in a time of climate emergency. 

‘But… a beacon is a warning to change course. Also, when I see ‘beacon’ the next words that come to mind are ‘of hope’.

And Frank Furedi, professor at the University of Kent, said changing the park’s name was ‘not going to do anything’ for the environment. 

He added: ‘They’re using the environment as a pretext to change the words that we use, it’s not really about the environment at all.’

Brecon Beacons: A history going back to the Middle Stone Age 

The Brecon Beacons National Park in South Wales was established in 1957, under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act of 1949.

The park has two purposes under law – those being to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the park; and to promote opportunities for the enjoyment and understanding of its special qualities.

Summit of Pen y Fan mountain as seen from Corn Du at Brecon Beacons National Park

Going back to 5500BC in Middle Stone Age times, hunter-gatherers cut down scrub and burned the aftermath to create small grassland areas so animals could graze and be hunted.

By the New Stone Age there was farming and the end of the Bronze Age there had been big forest clearances.

In the Iron Age, Celtic peoples arrived and brought much better farming processes including hill forts. The Romans and Normans later conquered the area – with the latter’s manorial system being consolidated in the Middle Ages. 

From the end of the 15th century industries such as ironmaking and charcoal burning began to emerge – while more recent decades have seen urban expansion, road construction, and reservoir building.

The national park area now covers 520 square miles, which much of this being upland and two-thirds of the area comprised of old red sandstone rocks.

Founder of the Free Speech Union, Toby Young, added: ‘It’s typical of the numpties who now run Wales to sacrifice the name of its most famous national park in order

The Welsh name for the region translates as ‘peaks of Brychan’s kingdom’ – a reference to the fifth-century king in the region.

The launch has been explained in a video, which was written by novelist Owen Sheers, featuring actor and activist Michael Sheen, who was born in Newport, South Wales.

The clip features images of rubbish, polluted water and wildfires and describes the area as being ‘hooked’ on carbon, diesel, petrol and oil. It also says it is suffering from an ageing population due to young people not being able to afford local housing or a well-paid job.

Talking about the new name, Sheen said: ‘I’m delighted to see them facing their challenges head-on and welcome the reclamation of the old Welsh name, an old name for a new way of being.’

He added: ‘National parks have a vital role to play in providing for nature, for people and for our shared future.’

Catherine Mealing-Jones, the national park authority’s chief executive, said: ‘Given that we’re trying to provide leadership on decarbonisation, a giant burning brazier is not a good look.

‘Our park is shaped by Welsh people, Welsh culture, and as we looked into it we realised the brand we’ve got and the name we’ve got, it’s a bit of a nonsense, it doesn’t really make any sense – the translation Brecon Beacons doesn’t really mean anything in Welsh.

‘We’d always had the name Bannau Brycheiniog as the Welsh translation and we just felt we needed to put that front and centre as an expression about the new way we wanted to be celebrating Welsh people, Welsh culture, Welsh food, Welsh farming – all of the things that need to come with us as we go through this change in the management plan.’

But she acknowledged that ‘people are used to calling the park by the name everyone’s used for 66 years so we don’t expect everyone to use Bannau Brycheiniog, at least straight away’.

The name change is accompanied by a plan to restore tree cover, wetlands, hedgerows, and wildflowers to attract wildlife while introducing localised renewable energy sources such as small wind turbines.

People will be encouraged to farm in a way that benefits nature, such as restricting grazing to certain areas, leaving a cover crop over winter for birds to eat and not spreading manure or fertiliser where it could contaminate watercourses.

Helen Roderick, sustainable development manager for the park, said a group of six farmers is sharing hydrological maps with other to help them avoid causing pollution. 

The summit of Cribyn mountain as seen from Pen y Fan in the national park

The Brecon Beacons National Park is changing its name as a direct response to the climate and ecological crisis, the park’s chief executive has said. Its most recent official map is pictured

A stream in the newly named Bannau Brycheiniog National Park

She said: ‘It’s just simple measures, but things that are highly effective. The other thing they’ve done is install weather stations on four or five of the farms.

‘Those are open through an app to any farmer who wants to understand the rain, the wind, ground conditions, to make sure that what they’re doing, they’re doing at the right time in the right weather conditions.’

Duncan Fisher, founder of Our Food 1200, a regenerative farming enterprise, is encouraging growers to produce food for local markets.

He said 16 small-scale farms have teamed up to build a more local food economy outside of the supermarket-dominated system, which would allow growers to keep more of the profits.

‘We’re very keen on this idea that the farmers own the supply chains, or that all of the money in the supply chain is local,’ he said.

‘That creates wealth that creates the circulation of money, which creates the market. The minute you start selling to a supermarket, it’s just really brutal.

‘The pressure on the price is down and that’s why farming is in such a lot of difficulty because they’re being paid such bad prices. So one of our solutions is, let’s build a locally owned system.’

The new plan launched today, on what is the 66th anniversary of the park’s national designation.

The Brecon Beacons is the latest Welsh site to be renamed.

Last year, Welsh language activists voted to rename the highest peak in England and Wales, Snowdon, as Yr Wyddfa.

Following the 5,000-name petition, the Snowdonia National Park Authority agreed to use the Welsh name for the 1,085m (3,560ft) peak in its English language literature as well.

Critics at the time said the name change was ‘confusing’ as the name Snowdon was known around the world.

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