Note about Fell Farming
30 March 2013
High fell farmers are suffering due to the weather, disease and crop failure.
The very wet weather over the last year has led to depleted soils and poor crops. Many incomes do not exceed £8,000 pa, hardly a living wage, although hours worked are close to 12 hour days, 7 days a week and no holidays.
Equally the wet weather has caused an plague of small snails in the grasses and so on, that transmit liver fluke. Some famers have lost over 25% of their herds due to the parasite. The other problem is that it is now widespread in all wild animals, except moles, and we know of at least nine dead roe deer, including one that expired on a vicarage lawn. Post mortems show raddled livers by the fluke. Veterinary injections will help but are expensive.
Ewes are not as healthy as they would normally be due to the wet weather and the poor feed. Lambing had been a disaster before the snow came.
The unexpected late heavy snow, at what should be spring, is drifting to over 5 to 6 feet, and is burying animals and newly born lambs, many of which die due to the cold as well as the poor nutrition. Famers are struggling in certain areas to rescue those sheep that have survived.
The propects for many Northern sheep farmers, often the only viable crop from high fells farms, are not now good. Many will cease farming unless a national support scheme can be devised similar to the support given to Foot and Mouth casualties.
Meat, it is forecast, will be increasingly expensive, as will animal feed, not always of the highest quality, and many income stressed families will feel the pinch of these events.
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Comments on "Note about Fell Farming"
I couldn't agree more with Mark's insightful comments on this topic. Sadly, people are very reluctant to change from traditional ways of life, even though it might be in their and the Planet's best interests. Many CEL members will recognise this in the difficulties we encounter when trying to tackle issues such as car use, flying, patterns of consumption and dietary choices. Returning the uplands to forestry makes absolute sense, not only for those who work the land, but for all of us. As we are a people of hope we can only pray that it is an ideal whose time may surely come, if not through choice then through sheer necessity.
State support to overgraze the fells makes no ecological sense. But then the Conservative government, despite it's name and pre election propaganda to the contrary, makes no ecological sense either. While Tory MP's lobby hard for sheep farming there are far more productive and creative possibilities that are being willfully betrayed. The UK is one of the least forested nations in Europe and in an era of likely catastrophic climate change deforestation should be first among our concerns. So consider the services of trees. From them we get soil and water management for free, including CO2 sequestration. We get timber, compost, shelter, blossoms, nuts, material for crafts, firewood, oxygen, wildlife habitat, biodiversity and beauty. Politics will decide how we meet our fate. The cruel legacy of Enclosures that made way for high concentrations of sheep on the fells always did enjoy state support. The most celebrated denunciation of this government policy was made by Thomas More: "Your sheep that were wont to be so meek and tame, and so small eaters, now, as I hear say, be become so great devourers and so wild, that they eat up and swallow down the very men themselves. They consume, destroy, and devour whole fields, houses and cities . . . " Utopia, 1516. We often hear scare stories about what will happen if high concentrations of sheep are removed from the fells. The Tory led Countryside Alliance tried to persuade the public that "banning foxhunting would do terrible damage to sheep farmers." But while the hunting class are more concerned with protecting exclusive land rights sheep farming is threatened by an adversary the existence of which many of their supporters continue to deny. The bitterly cold weather sweeping Britain and the rest of Europe has been linked by scientists with the ice-free seas of the Arctic, where global warming is exerting its greatest influence. The weather now driving sheep from the fells has in large part been brought about by the unsustainable farming methods and unjust politics that put them there in the first place. Perhaps now at this 11th hour there is the possibility for a new dawn of ecological sense and political justice. For the fells and the farmers who live there this would mean viable work, greater employment prospects for others, sustainable and more equitable land use and a better quality of life than can be provided by the monoculture of sheep.