FARMERS in Wales were literally "burying their livelihoods"
after they were given permission to bury sheep and lambs killed by
the recent blizzards, the Bishop of Swansea &
Brecon, the Rt Revd John Davies, told the Governing
In a debate about "Mission and ministry in rural and deep rural
areas", Bishop Davies pointed out that 82 per cent of Wales was
classified as rural; and 65 per cent was classified as "deep
He said that the recent cold-weather snap was causing numerous
problems for farmers: "Lambs on snow-covered uplands are dying
because of cold weather; livestock is still having to be fed on
winter food with implications for what happens later; and autumn
sowing is not possible.
"Lots of things we don't always hear about, yet alone
understand; but people's livelihoods are being washed away, frozen
away, and simply buried in the earth."
Welsh farmers, he said, were estimating that recent events could
cause income to drop by as much as 40 per cent, with one of the
outcomes of the stress being "the alarming statistics about
suicides in farming industry".
But he said that the Church has a role to play. "Percentage-wise
- certainly in the diocese of Swansea & Brecon - church
attendance in rural areas is greater than it is in urban areas. The
church is still seen as a pretty fundamental and important bit of
rural life - particularly when so many other bits of that rural
life have disappeared."
Seconding the motion, the Revd Richard Kirlew
(Swansea & Brecon), described the "horror story" of lambs being
born and dying "in some of the worst spring weather that we have
had for many a year.
"The problem is that the snow-covered uplands are still
concealing their macabre secrets. It may be many weeks before the
gruesome toll is known, or before all carcasses are recovered. The
disposal of such large numbers of carcasses is already causing
issues. The Welsh government has given permission for them to be
buried on farmland because it has proved impossible to dispose of
them in a conventional manner."
The problems caused by the severe weather are just the latest in
a long list of issues that are causing concern for the farming
community. "Last summer saw major problems within the dairy
industry. Throughout the UK, three farmers were giving up dairy
farming every single day. They were losing money hand over fist. A
loss to the industry of this magnitude is just not sustainable.
Last summer, bottled water was more expensive than milk."
He gave a "timely reminder" for people "to support our farmers
and buy locally produced food. . . If you have eaten today, thank a
The Revd Peter Brooks (Swansea
& Brecon) spoke with "ten years of experience of rural ministry
in mid-Wales". He has now moved to the "seemingly affluent Gower",
but said that, even there, rural poverty could be found.
"Who'd have thought that in the Mumbles you'd find a food bank?
For those who don't know the Mumbles, it is a tourist area; and in
terms of house prices, I couldn't even afford a shed."
He said that most rural communities, even market towns, were a
30- to 60-minute drive from where people had to travel for
shopping, hospital appointments, and various treatments. "Owning a
car isn't a luxury, it is a necessity; but petrol prices are well
above the national average."
Mrs Rosamund Crawford (St
Asaph) gave an example of the "misunderstanding of the local
housing situation" that can have an impact on people in rural
"A local builder bought a field on the edge of a village," she
said. "His intention was to build some starter homes to help the
younger members of the village remain. The County Council insisted
that he build four five-bedroom houses, claiming there was a need
for them." Mrs Crawford said that the houses were bought as "second
homes for people from across the border".
"As a consequence, the younger people are having to move much
further afield, and this will mean that, in due course, there will
be small class-sizes at the school, which could lead to the school
being closed - a situation that could be repeated all over
She said that many villages were at increasing risk of isolation
during bad weather, and also the churches in the centre of these
"As well as celebrating the great festivals of the Church, it is
essential for us to remind all in the countryside that we have the
stewardship of the earth given to us by God to celebrate as
Services were being added to the church calendar in her parish,
she said, "to focus on the ribbons of the seasons". In addition to
harvest and rogation, services of thanksgiving for lambing, and
blessing of the farms, were being held.
The issue of rural isolation was also highlighted by
the Revd Alison Jones (Swansea
& Brecon), who pointed out that Rhossili, on the Gower, which
had been voted the most beautiful beach in Britain, and the third
in Europe, had been cut off 12 times this winter because of
flooding or snow. "How isolating can that feel - not only for
farmers, but ordinary people, both young and old?"
She hoped that the new Provincial Rural Life group would "speak
with people in urban areas about the importance of recognising
climate change; and how every little bit that is done to making
things better for our environment will help people - even little
people in Rhossili."
Sandy Blair (Co-opted), a former member of the
Health and Safety Executive, pointed out that the agriculture
industry has the highest accident-rate of any industry in Britain,
and the highest death-rate by work-related accidents.
"The death rate in Afghanistan was an appalling figure; but you
need to recognise that more people died working on British land
than died in Afghanistan as British soldiers."
James Turner, chairman of the Representative
Body, said: "It is very often not fully appreciated that much of
Wales, and parts of the Marches, constitute the leading and most
important sheep-rearing region of Europe. The health of the
agricultural community totally underpins the health of the rural
economy. . .
"Each time you go into a restaurant, or indeed a retail outlet,
ask them: 'Where does your food come from?' Recently, I faced a
ridiculous situation at a hotel in Cardiff, our capital city, which
was serving bottled water from Scotland. I asked them: 'Why don't
you serve Welsh water?'
"The more of us who do that, the more we are helping our
colleagues in rural communities."