Snow-Hit Sheep Farmers Fear Worse Is To Come
Farmers will have to prepare for the impact of more extreme weather on livestock and crops, according to the National Farmers Union.
The Union's deputy president has told Sky News he believes climate change may be to blame for unseasonal conditions like the damaging spring snowfall in 2013.
Meurig Raymond told Sky News: "The industry is facing the volatility of weather - maybe climate change. So feeding the world is going to be important going forward. We as farmers have to face up to that, but wake up for society as well."
His comments come as farmers say it will take years to recover financially from losses suffered during the coldest spring in 50 years.
Months on from snowfall that struck during lambing season, farmers have told Sky News their industry is still reeling from the heavy losses of livestock.
On the hills above Llanfairfechan in North Wales farmer Gareth Wyn Jones feeds the sheep that survived the heavy snow.
In March and April he spent weeks digging through feet of snow to recover the bodies of sheep and lambs that had perished.
Now, on a cold, sunny winter morning he surveys the surrounding hillsides that offer a stunning view across the Irish Sea.
He says the snow came at the worst possible time for sheep farmers. Most of the animals that died were new born lambs.
He estimates hundreds died on his farm alone.
"We lost about eighty breeding ewes and we lost a hundred ponies but we were fortunate - we dug eighty or ninety ewes out. A neighbour of ours lost half his hill flock overnight - gone," he said.
"There are some massive losses just in this little valley in North Wales."
Farmers in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Shropshire, Cumbria, Yorkshire and the Isle of Man also lost thousands of sheep and lambs.
The number of deaths forced the Welsh Assembly and Defra to temporarily relax strict EU rules that prevent farmers from burying dead animals. Usually farmers have to pay for carcasses to be removed.
Since the snowfall Defra says it has been working with farmers and the insurance industry to ensure farmers are protected for future weather events.
They have also been working with the Met Office to publish detailed weather forecasts for farmers.
Joanne Briggs, from the National Sheep Association, told Sky News: "The time it will take for affected sheep farms to recover cannot be underestimated - it's not just the financial implications, which will take at least two or three years for business to overcome, but the loss of genetics from their flocks.
"Some bloodlines can never be replaced and that can mean a backward step of a decade or more for elite pedigrees.
"Like the animals that they care for, sheep farmers in general are incredibly resilient, but the spring of 2013 came at the end of an incredibly difficult 12 months and will leave a legacy for many years to come.
"But everyone can do their bit to support them, by making sure that when they buy lamb it is sourced from the UK."
Back on the farm in North Wales Mr Wyn Jones keeps an anxious eye on the long-term forecast.
He says he's not sure if they could cope with another spring snowfall. Most of his ewes are pregnant again and he's counting on the lambs due to be born this spring to help rebuild his livelihood.
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