Ewes and lambs that have perished in the snow drifts that unexpectedly hit the south coast line of West Cumbria should be taken away by the National Fallen Stock Company (NFSCo) free of charge, the National Farmers' Union has said.
The NFU has called on both Defra and the National Fallen Stock Company (NFSCo) to help those farmers who have suffered heavy losses by providing a temporary, free collection service for animals killed by the snow.
Farms around the upland areas of Broughton, Millom, Eskdale, Wasdale, Langdale and Ulpha have been particularly badly affected by the snow drifts which in parts have been over 20 feet deep. Esther Pritt has been helping her members to dig out sheep from the drifts.
"The situation is desperate as most farmers I'm talking to in the area have already lost ewes and lambs numbering into the 80s and that is only what they've managed to find so far" she said.
"It's heart breaking to witness as they currently don’t know the full scale of their losses and really don’t want to think about the worst case scenario. Many ewes that initially survive later die of exhaustion or are aborting. The situation is serious. A lot of farmers simply haven’t got the money to get these animals collected."
Alistair Mackintosh farms at Ravenglass in Muncaster and has lost 100 lambs and 20 ewes. Mackintosh, who is Cumbria's NFU representative, added: "There are a number of farmers with hundreds of sheep still unaccounted for. This extra burden to have these carcasses taken away at a cost is intolerable and an insult to the farmers who have suffered from a natural disaster. To add this extra burden to those farmers who are already suffering from the loss of their sheep is unacceptable.
"I endorse the NFU’s position to fund the free collection of those animals and urge the National Fallen Stock Company (NFSCo) and government to step up to the mark as time is of the essence. They need to act quickly so farmers have the confidence to send these dead animals away on the National Fallen Stock Scheme in the knowledge that they won’t receive a bill that could run into the thousands."
Many of the flocks that are effected are hefted which is a traditional method of managing flocks of sheep on large areas of common land and communal grazing. Initially, sheep had to be kept in an unfenced area of land by constant shepherding.
Over time this has become learned behaviour, passed from ewe to lamb over succeeding generations.
Lambs graze with their mothers on the fell belonging to their farm instilling a lifelong knowledge of where optimal grazing and shelter can be found throughout the year.
No animals are insured for this sort of occurrence so the farmers will receive no compensation for their losses, be faced with large replacement bills and have the arduous task of teaching those replacements the learned behaviour of hefting which is usually passed from ewe to lamb over succeeding generations.