UK Farmers Help Their Fellow Farmers from the Somerset Levels.

UK Farmers Help Their Fellow Farmers from the Somerset Levels.

Spontaneous applause broke out at Sedgemoor market near Bridgwater on Saturday for farmer James Winslade as his cattle, forced from his farm on the Somerset Levels by the floods, were sold.

Emotions were as high there as they have been elsewhere, with the farming spirit that runs through Somerset and the wider West Country rousing the community to what has been a powerful demonstration of humanity. From cafes to supermarkets, arable swathes to smallholdings, the country ha srushed to their aid.

Sedgemoor Auction Centre, used by many or  all of those whose land lies under  water, is being used as a depot for forage after supplies on the Somerset Levels to feed the cattle forced to be kept indoors ran out.

And the phone has been a hot line. Offers of silage, feed, transport and general help have been pouring in, from Yorkshire to East Anglia, with trucks arriving regularly. Farmers on the other side of the country have dropped everything to help their fellow farmers in their hour of need.

Naomi Parker of NFU Mutual’s Bridgwater office, which is co-ordinating the deluge of donations of forage, said the response had been superb.

“My email’s going crazy,” she said. “And my phone keeps ringing. Tesco has loaned its lorries, as have DHL and other hauliers. Mole Valley Farmers have donated haulage and also paid for loads of feed. Countrywide have done the same. It’s not just local, it’s coming in nationally.

“Two artics turned up loaded with square-baled silage and there’s another load turning up tomorrow. I can’t believe the way people work together. We’ve had curtainsiders turn up full of forage – it’s a vast amount, I’ve never seen anything like it.

“Among the local firms helping out have been Hawkins Agri and IJ Webber of East Lyng – whose own premises are under water but they’ve still managed to get here. Lorries are turning up from Leicestershire, Yorkshire, East Anglia – a power station in Ely called offering tons of straw. The Club Hectare group of farmers on Twitter have been great, too.”

Rob Venner, of Sedgemoor Auction Centre, said: “We had 60 of James Winslade’s herd through on Saturday. Buyers were tremendous; they really looked after him, they put in a massive effort and gave him a fantastic trade.”

Another 30 of Mr Winslade’s fat cattle are due at Sedgemoor today, with Mr Venner hoping for a similar reaction from buyers at that stage as well.

“James has rounded up all his cattle and has them placed away on nine farms. The work will now start on the job of feeding them and looking after them over such a vast area.

“Otherwise there’s another farmer I’m keeping in touch with, John Lang at Moorland. He’s right up against the Parrett and hoping that he’s not going to get flooded out. He has not only his own stock but some of Henry Davies and Brian Hutchins that have already been evacuated. So we’ll be moving three lots of stock again if he goes under, but they’re working to try and bund him in at the moment, creating a bit more of a barrier.”

But it’s not just farmers who are affected – and it’s not just farmers who are donating. Donations to the Somerset Community Fund soared on Saturday. Donations have ranged from £5 to £250 and the messages are heartwarming.

Closer to home, people have been doing everything they can to help. As Jane Wood answered the phone to the Western Daily Press on Saturday, yet another person came in the door of Oliver’s Coffee Shop in Sherborne with a bag of donations.

“Every time I turn around, someone has brought in another bag,” she said. “Whether it’s shampoo, socks, soap or towels, it’s crazy in here. There’s a really strong community spirit in Sherborne and there’s been people I’ve never met bringing stuff down. I’ve had text messages from people I haven’t heard from in years, people dropping stuff by on their birthday.

“I wasn’t sure how we were going to transport it all at first, but now we’ve got offers of vans and lorries. The store out the back is filling up fast, I’ve got enough to completely fill my car already and there’s more to come. I’ll maybe take more down later in the week.

“I grew up on a farm about ten miles from here so I appreciate what they’re going through. It’s just horrendous so I thought: ‘Let’s see what we can do’. I put a scrawled bit of card in the window and the response has been simply phenomenal. I’ve never seen such generosity; people are dropping bags of stuff on their way back from the supermarket. It’s the stuff you’d want if you’d had to leave your home behind so fast: clothes, toothbrushes – and the pet shop down the road is donating a load of pet food.”

She will be taking the donations to the co-ordination centre in Taunton and they will be distributed from there.

In between talking to distraught farmers, Suzie Wilkinson, of the Somerset branch of the Farming Community Network, told the Daily Press: “It’s been amazing. There’s a tremendous amount of support out there for what is a huge amount of suffering. It’s really tough on the Levels and it’s not improving; farmers are just watching the water go up and up.

“I’ve just had a NatWest bank manager call to see how they can help – and of course they are going to desperately need business support. Farmers are very resilient but right now all they can do is deal with the day-to-day. They are really going to need support in two, three or four months; or perhaps even years. They’re going through hell, losing their home and livelihood. I spoke to one woman who left her home and has been lucky enough to be offered accommodation. But no matter how nice it is, it’s not home, is it?

“There are a lot of helplines available and everyone is working really, really hard. It’s important that donations are co-ordinated so those in need get the right things. They might need fresh fruit and vegetables, they might need clothes – so I’d urge people to call the Red Cross to find out what they can do to help.”


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