CUMBRIAN farmers have welcomed the announcement that Defra has released a £250,000 fund to reimburse farmers for the cost of removing sheep killed in blizzards.

Agriculture and Food minister David Heath announced the scheme today after seeing the ‘terrible emotional and financial toll’ on farmers during a visit to the county.

“We have been working with the National Fallen Stock Company to find the fairest way to help them meet the cost of removing their stock,” he said.

“I’m pleased to be able to announce this support and call upon the public to lend their own support to our farmers by choosing British lamb.”

Farms around the upland areas of Broughton, Millom, Eskdale, Wasdale, Langdale and Ulpha were particularly badly affected by snow drifts which, in parts, were over 20 feet deep. There were also deaths reported around Eden.

Ravenglass farmer and NFU Cumbria Council Delegate Alistair Mackintosh was instrumental in persuading the minister to visit the area to bring home to him the full impact of stock losses in the spring snows.

He and NFU Deputy President Meurig Raymond took the minister to see Robin and Joyce Jenkinson of Charlesground Farm on Corney Fell.

They told the minister that it was impossible to say just how many sheep they had lost as the task of finding and removing carcases from the fells could take two or three months to complete.

In addition there were consequential losses among sheep rescued from the snow including a major reduction in numbers of lambs born this year.

“Following intensive lobbying from the NFU in the North West of England, the minister has been minded to step in and help with this dire situation,” Mr Mackintosh said.

“I thank him and greatly appreciate the support he is giving the farmers of Cumbria and the rest of the country.

“This is a welcome temporary stop gap for an immediate problem which will have adverse effects on the farmers involved for many years to come.”

Mr Raymond added: “This very welcome move by Defra will come as a huge relief to those farming families who have struggled with the worst spring snow in living memory and have since faced the very specific problem of the cost of removal of large numbers of dead animals.

“The NFU will now continue to work very closely with the government on the detail of exactly how this money will be distributed.”

Defra had already permitted farmers to bury or burn livestock onsite if snow made it difficult to get them to a collection vehicle, and relaxed rules on driver hours to allow extra time for essential deliveries of animal feed.

The department has also worked with the National Fallen Stock Company to encourage collectors to offer discounted rates for removing more than ten sheep at a time.

Farmers will be reimbursed in line with this discounted rate for the sheep they have paid to remove.

Defra said it will work with the NFU and other farming representatives to finalise the scheme.

In May, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson will host a meeting of farming sector representatives, farming charities and banks to highlight the financial impact that exceptional weather is having on farm businesses and to see what more can be done to support farmers who are struggling financially.

Natural England has also taken steps to help farmers deal with the severe weather by temporarily lifting some of the land management requirements that normally apply to environmental stewardship agreements, so that farmers and growers have more flexibility to deal with the impact of the recent extreme and unseasonable weather.

Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron also welcomed the Government’s move.

He had written to Mr Paterson following an announcement by the Scottish Government that they would be offering funding to their farmers, and called for a similar offer to be made to English farmers.

He said: “The weather across the north and north west England has been completely devastating for many farmers as hundreds of sheep have been lost after being buried under snow and what should be an enjoyable lambing season is now threatened with complete destruction.

“The income losses that will come as a result of the weather is incredibly damaging, but the increased cost of having to pay to dispose of fallen stock has the potential to put many farmers out of business altogether.

“I am very grateful that the Government have listened to my pleas and set up a fund to help keep our farmers afloat in this incredibly difficult period. I will continue to monitor the situation very carefully to ensure that farmers are receiving all the support they need.”

Copeland and Penrith and the Border MPs Jamie Reed and Rory Stewart also welcomed the fund.

But Mr Reed said he would contact farmers and NFU representatives in his constituency to ask if the help is sufficient.

“Before Easter, I wrote to the Secretary of State to call for action and assistance to help those farmers who have been hit hard by the recent extreme cold weather," he said.

“The response I received was far from encouraging – the Government did not make any suggestions that financial assistance would be available and I, and the local branch of the NFU, was extremely disappointed. 

"Farmers were not asking for compensation for their loss of earnings, but some help to remove the fallen stock.

“So I welcome the news that the Government has seen sense. 

“The amount pledged is significantly less then I was told it would be earlier this week, but is welcome nonetheless. Following this news, I will be contacting my local NFU representatives to discuss what this means for local farmers and to determine whether or not this assistance is sufficient.”

Mr Stewart said: "This is wonderful news, and is the second time in under a month that Ministers have responded to Cumbria's farming needs - the first was when they suspended EU regulations to allow farmers to get feed trucks to isolated farms in a temporary derogation of the Working Time Directive, and now we can see them respond quickly, again, to pressure from all Cumbrian MPs.

"I was delighted to play a small personal role in this, and am extremely pleased to hear also that Ministers will be putting measures in place to ensure such emergency situations are better dealt with in the future."