Visit to Farming Community Affected by the Yorkshire Dale Floods

The Farming community of Arkengarthdale and Swaledale – the countryside surrounding the village of Reeth in the Yorkshire Dales - is still dealing with the aftermath from the effects of an intense few hours of rainfall that fell on 31st July. 

Six weeks later and the village of Reeth itself is well on its way to returning to normal – dry stone wallers are busy fixing the sections of wall around Dales Bike Centre and garden walls for a row of cottages are being rebuilt using more modern methods, fixing the gaps left when floodwaters surged through. Bridges and roads swept away have similarly had diversions speedily constructed to ensure the infrastructure of the area remains able to still cater for both day-to-day life and crucial tourist income.  However, farmers in the surrounding area are facing a significantly longer timescale.  Though their clean-up operation is well under way, the level and scale of damage is such that the cost and time to fix is not possible in six weeks - likely not even six months. 

Our Grants Manager, Helen Fagan visited some of the farms worst affected by the flooding, accompanied by Bill Young from the Addington Fund and Richard Betton the Farming Community Network North Regional Director.  We are very grateful for the farmers and their families who gave up their time to host our visit and show us the damage caused. 

Some of the old stone bridges whose sections were brought down by the floodwaters

The farms of this area are predominantly upland sheep farms – already an industry hard-hit by falls in the price of sheep at market - with locations that are very isolated and exposed, often backing onto the moorland commons.  Dry stone walls are a key feature for the function of these farms – and are a feature synonymous with much of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, whilst those with the skills and strength to repair them are in short supply and doing so is a slow process.

An estimated three miles of dry-stone walls were unable to withstand the force of the floodwaters as they breached the becks (tributaries of the River Swale).  The force of the water was so powerful that landslips occurred all over the landscape, existing valleys were gouged away, and trees, boulders and soil were caught up by the water until being dropped downhill when reaching a gentler gradient.  Much of this debris remains as scars across lower lying grazeland still, with the farms having either insufficient resources or manpower to clear. Many of them have focused their time on constructing temporary fencing where it was urgently needed to stop livestock from escaping via the gaps – at significant cost.

One of the hardest farms hit, in Low Eskeleth, immediately adjacent to one of the becks breached, saw the loss of approximately 100 lambs carried away by the river.  Farmer Douglas Barningham has put significant resources behind fixing as much as possible in the few weeks that has passed.  The community has come together to assist where they could, with approximately 30 volunteers – mostly from the local Young Farmers branch - having helped clear his bottom field in atrocious weather conditions to be able to return one of the most affected fields to a usable condition in time to replant grass needed to feed his reduced stock over the coming months.

Foreground, one of the many replacement fences erected to replace the dry-stone wall brought down by the floodwaters, with the field next to the beck having been replanted with the assistance of 30 volunteers from the local Young Farmers group

Punchard farm, specialist of the local Swaledale breed sheep, saw the loss of a footbridge and land around it, as well as a wall of an early 18th Century barn as the debris carried by the waters collided with its side.

Left, Swaledale sheep at Punchard Farm; Right, early 18th Century stone barn which was brought down by debris

Another of the farmers who gave up his time to show us the damage caused to his family farm’s grazing land was Matt Barker.  Much of the remaining debris his family will be unable to move without renting heavy lifting equipment, but in addition to this and the loss of land through the creation of gorges which were not there before: “You can’t put a cost on the loss of topsoil that has occurred” explaining the loss of nutrients from the runoff will likely have ramifications for future grazing harvests.  Of further concern is the lead runoff from the old lead mines higher up the valley.

Debris remains lying across prime grazing land which needs clearing 

Paul Brown, another farmer who took the time to show us the damage to his farm explained the effects of ruined haylage bales considered contaminated by the floodwaters – “I can’t pay for anyone to take them away” as they are classed as contaminated “and they are too heavy to move them myself, so I’m stuck with them”. He also explained that the toxicity of the soil resulting from floodwaters is such that he has been unable to replant his fields.  “We’ve had to put lime down, but we’ve still not reached the required pH7 to be able to replant the rye grass and we’ve nearly run out of time in the growing season.”  

This significant amount of damage to fields, banking, soils, forage, fences and walls are uninsurable under any insurance claim, so the cost falls directly to the farmer.  

The Prince’s Countryside Fund has released £50,000 to the Addington Fund who are working with the Farming Community Network on the ground to provide financial support to the victims of the flooding, which will be supplemented by additional funds raised from The Prince’s Countryside Fund supporters through a fundraising campaign.  These funds will be used to contribute to the affected farms’ additional outgoings, covering a proportion of the resources and skills needed to rebuild their livelihoods. The deadline to apply for this funding is 30th September, contact Addington Fund.

We welcome any additional contribution to The Prince’s Countryside Fund to help us help more farming family businesses affected by extreme weather events.  If you are able to donate to our emergency fund, please follow this link.