It's more than 800 years since Giraldus reported that some of his Norman compatriots thought it best to turn Wales into an "unpopulated forest area and game preserve." Which is pretty much what George Monbiot advocates in his recently published book.
George doesn't like the Cambrian Mountains, the Cambrian Desert he calls it; indeed he describes losing the will to live when faced with its bleakness. Now as it happens, and as you can see from the satellite photo, Elenydd* isn't really an unproductive desert at all. It's a major supplier of water - which presumably Guardian readers occasionally drink. It produces electricity - both sensible (hydro) and daft (wind) - commercial forestry and the dastardly sheep.
Monbiot doesn't like sheep and I tend to agree with a good deal of what he has to say. There is an over-dependence on sheep in Wales and Elenydd would certainly benefit from large areas being fenced off and restored to natural woodland. I'm not sure how that would affect the water catchment areas mind, and since he doesn't mention the reservoirs I'm guessing George doesn't either.
Of course the agricultural grant system encourages many of the wrong things, but what can Wales - or the UK for that matter - do about it? I agree with Monbiot that grant aid should be restricted to smaller, family run farms, I agree that mad regulations should be ditched - the rule that fallen stock must be carted away rather than left to the raptors for example. But these matters are decided in Brussels. It's a puzzle to me why so many of the forces - the left, the unions, Plaid Cymru - who opposed it in 1975, are now the most enthusiastic backers of this constipated European cleptocracy.
Back at the end of the Sixties the Countryside Commission was pushing for the establishment of a Cambrian Mountains National Park. They wanted it to open by 1972, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Yellowstone National Park. Monbiot is also inspired by Yellowstone and especially its success in reintroducing the wolf. He'd take it a step further though and bring back bears, bison, lynx and beaver to the hills of Mid-Wales.
Personally I'd like to see the future of areas such as Elenydd decided, not by GATT, or the EU, or bored English environmentalists, but by the people of Wales. I guess that makes me as much of a fantasist as George and the dream of elephants munching their way through Rhayader's Atlantic rain forest.
* I think it should be more properly called Elenid but Elenydd seems to have won the day.