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Spike in countryside walkers due to COVID-19 is putting farmers and livestock in peril

Tracie Roberts

THE number of walkers using farmers’ fields for their daily exercise is putting livestock and workers across Cumbria at increased risk, it has been claimed.

Farmers across the county have spoken of fears they could contract the deadly disease, because so many people are touching gates as they open them to access their land.

And in many cases, they are left open, leaving livestock – including lambing ewes – to wander onto country lanes where they are at a heightened risk of injury.

Tracie Roberts, an accountant who works with many of the 100-plus farming and agriculture clients on the books at JF Hornby and Co, says the message from farmers is clear.

“I am in close contact with all of my clients, and while at the moment, their businesses are in relative terms doing quite well – they are all reporting a huge increase in the number of people and dog walkers using their land. That’s the case across the county.

“The issue here is that so many people are touching their gates as they open and close them, the farmers are fearful of catching COVID-19; in fact a member of the farming community in Cumbria sadly died from the coronavirus and his family are convinced he caught it by touching an infected gate.

“A further challenge for them is that many people are leaving gates open and livestock is escaping. We are in prime lambing season and this is a crucial time for farmers. They cannot afford for lambing ewes to be wandering along country lanes.”

Tracie has been an accountant for more than 30 years and a passion for farming and agricultural life has driven her interest in working with businesses in the sector.

With a family history in farming; her father worked for many years on a dairy farm, she believes she has an understanding of the challenges and needs of the sector.

It was announced by the Environment Secretary earlier this week that struggling farmers may get extra financial help from the Government during the coronavirus pandemic.

George Eustice said that while the agriculture industry had not been affected in the same ways as retail and hospitality, assistance to farmers has not been ruled out.

Tracie said that feedback from her portfolio of clients in the dairy and beef sectors remained relatively upbeat, with a majority continuing to feed the supply chain.

But there was an acknowledgement, she added, that the picture might change in the coming weeks, depending on the continued length and severity of the lockdown measures.

“We are keeping a close eye on the national picture. In no way is there a feeling that Cumbria will be immune to the challenges in the industry. But for now, dairy farmers are having their milk collected and livestock auctions are going ahead, albeit subject to new rules.

“There have been some challenges for farms which have diversified into, for example log cabins or glamping pods. In some cases these will have been rolled into the main farming business, meaning they do not qualify for any government support. Those set up as separate businesses however, have been able to benefit.

“These are certainly challenging times, but the industry has suffered its fair share over the years. It is strong and resilient.

“One of the positives has been more people buying local from farm shops and butchers, most of whom are supplied by farms in the county. I certainly hope that continues when we are on the other side of this crisis.”

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