I PAID a visit recently to the Gwent Levels, at the invitation of RSPB Cymru, the Gwent Wildlife Trust and Friends of the Earth Cymru.

They are a huge asset, not just to Gwent but to Wales, representing one of the largest surviving areas of ancient marshes covering more than 5,000 hectares. I heard that the reserves receive 100,000 visitors annually.

But the three bodies have huge environmental concerns about plans for the development of an M4 Relief Road and also the prospect of a Severn Barrage.

Personally, I think there are far better alternatives than driving a new road through this beautiful area. Could, for instance, the accesses around existing road junctions be improved, could Newport’s Southern Distributor Road be improved to take additional traffic? What are the public transport alternatives and what part could they play?

I’m also a long way from being convinced about the necessity for the Severn Barrage, because of the huge environmental impact it would have on the Gwent Levels.

There are alternatives, such as tidal lagoons and tidal reefs, which need to be examined. They would have far less environmental impact than a Severn Barrage.

On the barrage, I also raised the issue directly with Carwyn Jones during First Minister’s Questions, asking if he could give an undertaking that any scheme for the barrage would include the protection of marine wildlife. I warned him that environmentalists would fight tooth and nail to protect this unique corner of Wales and I will be with them.

Carwyn Jones said that it was absolutely crucial that schemes had the smallest impact possible on the environment “in order to make them truly green”.

● This will be my final column of 2012 so I wanted to appeal to Argus readers to think about those who are on their own, often the elderly, during the Christmas period.

If you have a neighbour who does not have family, then perhaps consider inviting them into your home, something I’ve done in the past. It’s a gesture I’m sure would be really appreciated.

There are half-a-dozen foodbanks in the Gwent area. They do a great job in providing emergency food for families and individuals who cannot afford to eat.

Many people are suffering badly because of the economic crisis and the rise in food prices, so if you’re able to help by donating food you can get information on where foodbanks are located through www.trusselltrust.org/foodbank-projects. I’m sure they would be delighted to hear from you.