• 9 The Coldest March in Decades

    No-one has escaped the petrifying fingers of winter this year, which have extended long beyond their usual reach, right into April. Upland farmers have been particularly badly hit with drifts piling up against field edges, blocking off roads and access to the fells, and leaving some sheep buried. The relentless freezing winds blowing in from the east have made it even harsher.

    During the last very cold few weeks we have not been out to our core farms in the Lake District, but are in daily contact with Andrew, the farmer living next door to us here in the Yorkshire Dales. Yesterday, he lost four lambs that froze over night. A few days ago, it was two, and last week lambs were dying even in the barns, as the temperature stayed stubbornly way below zero and the wind crept through any gap it could find. In his house, the weaker lambs are staying warm by the Aga, and in the fields, others are wrapped in clear plastic – a small gesture that makes a huge difference.

    Andrew was fortunate not to lose any ewes, although for several days while the lane was under eight feet of snow, his usual 1-mile journey to the fells to deliver food to the ewes involved a diversion of 6 miles; his morning and evening rounds took three hours each, instead of one. After last year's wet, wet summer, and with the ground frozen or covered, the sheep have needed more feeding than they do on an average year and for Andrew, as for farmers across the UK, the cost of feed, and the time needed to get to the sheep, have added up. Yet, despite the difficulties, he has maintained his characteristic smile and jovial nature - this seems to be an essential quality for someone who shepherds in these challenging hills.

    Over in the Lake District the ewes will be lambing in a couple of weeks. We’re all hoping that the winter chill will be a memory, and the warmth of Spring will have thawed most of the snow, reducing the pressure on the sheep and the farmers. We’ll be heading over to one or two of our core farms, setting up tent, and doing what we can to help out with lambing.


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