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Severe weather puts farmers at risk

05 April 2013

by a staff reporter


Long search: Gareth Wyn Jones, a farmer in Llanfairfechan, north Wales, relies on his dogs to discover sheep hidden under snowdrifts

Long search: Gareth Wyn Jones, a farmer in Llanfairfechan, north Wales, relies on his dogs to discover sheep hidden under snowdrifts

AFTER the coldest Easter Day on record, the Bishop of Hereford, the Rt Revd Anthony Priddis, has issued a dire warning about the state of farming.

In an open letter to clergy in his diocese, and to farmfers across the country, Bishop Priddis warns that farming communities are facing their most difficult time since the devastating foot-and-mouth outbreak of 2001.

Bishop Priddis writes that it is "vital that our farmers, their families, and whole rural communities are assured at least of our prayer and support in these straitened times, with as much understanding of their predicament as we can show".

He urges people to help in whatever practical ways they can, including buying food locally when possible. He asks parishioners in village communities to "reassure people of the prayer and concern and support of us all across the whole of our diocese".

The continuing freezing temperatures have caused farmers huge problems: grass is not growing, and sowing has been delayed because of waterlogged ground. The heavy fall of snow before Easter, in the middle of lambing, has imposed a further burden on livestock farmers. It is thought to have killed thousands of sheep and newborn lambs, burying them under feet of snow.

The worst affected areas are in Wales and the north-west of England, including Shropshire and the Pennines.

The Christian charity Farm Community Network, formerly the Farm Crisis Network, operates a helpline for farmers. Its helpline is manned by more than 300 volunteers, who also help farmers fill in forms, and attend meetings with bank managers and accountants if needed. A spokesman said that calls to the helpline had increased sharply in recent weeks. "The situation was difficult enough for farmers before the snow - that has just compounded things."

On the Isle of Man, which has seen the heaviest snowfall in many years, some Holy Week and Easter services had to be cancelled because of ice and snow.

The Priest-in-Charge at St Luke's, Baldwin, in the foothills of Snaefell, the Revd Janice Ward, said that the congregation had to cancel both their Palm Sunday and Easter Day services as the track to the church was unsafe. Mrs Ward said that farmers on parts of the island were struggling: "Some still don't know how much they have lost, as they can't get to some of the remote areas to find their animals."

The Bishop of Sodor & Man, the Rt Revd Robert Paterson, has visited some of the worst affected areas. He asked all congregations to pray for stricken farmers, and has produced a special prayer that asks for hope for those whose livelihoods have been threatened by the bad weather.

The Welsh government has promised to find ways to assist farmers. It has temporarily lifted strict EU regulations to allow farmers to bury dead livestock on their farms instead of paying to have them removed. The National Farmers Union is lobbying the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for more help for farmers.

One couple in Wales, however, were able to go ahead with their Easter wedding, despite the snow, thanks to the efforts of parishioners and the Area Dean, who swept away two feet of snow to ensure that the bride could get to the church on time.

The couple, Alison Jelley and Michael Roberts had booked St Berres's, Llanferres, Mold, in north Wales, for a spring wedding, but woke that morning to heavy snow. The Area Dean of Mold, the Revd Adrian Copping, organised villagers to ensure that the wedding went ahead.

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