Floods: much still to be cleared up - Veterinary Practice
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Floods: much still to be cleared up

Richard Gard sees and hears how vets and farmers are working together to restore ‘order’ in parts of Somerset – with problems for some people escalating

TODAY (in early April) it is still
raining and farms on the Somerset
levels are unable to be farmed.

The local paper has highlighted
five vehicles that have been dragged
out of a feeder ditch leading to the
river Tone. It appears that these may
have been under the mud for some 20

Meetings between
farmers and the
Environment Agency
have been quite heated.
The subject of
dredging has been
around for several years
and there are major issues between
those who wish to retain water and
those who wish to shed it. Somewhat
simplistically, a division between the
waterfowl folk and the farmers has
been highlighted.

When the water levels rose
significantly, cattle were moved to the
market at Junction 24 for practical
welfare reasons. Barns were already
surrounded by water and there were
real fears of not being able to cope.
So around 500 animals were
transported by all means available into
the market stalls. Three days later
other cattle would be arriving for the weekly sale and there were deep
discussions about disease transfer

As it turned out, the farmers
involved were offered alternative barn
accommodation for some of the stock
and other beasts were sold. A major
support structure was developed, with
fodder being provided from other farms, which is seen as a significant
demonstration of farmer solidarity.
Young Farmers groups and others
delivered and donated bales from
considerable distances.

The statistics indicate that 25
square miles of land was under water
(28,000 acres of farmland). The
pumping has now finished, the waters
have receded from homes and the
land is said to be “brown and lifeless”.

Agronomists have estimated that it
will be two years before crops will be
able to be grown and have referred to
the land as “toxic”. This label has
been hotly debated and the
Environment Agency talked about
contaminated land. The farmers
sought urgent clarification.

No data on contamination

At a meeting involving farmers and
other landowners the term
contaminated was challenged and it
was admitted that no data were
available to indicate levels of
contamination. It was assumed that
the residue from the floods would
contain chemicals and “unnatural
substances” that would be deposited
on the land. Septic tank contents and
fuel oil have been highlighted.

For the farmers, the application of
loose terminology could have very
serious consequences if the meat and
milk buyers prove reluctant to buy the
farm produce, so the admission that
there is “no contamination” is seen as
very important. More information will
no doubt be forthcoming.

The AHVLA has indicated that
the consequences should be little
different to other years when flooding
on the levels has been experienced.
Human sewage sludge is not an
uncommon product being routinely
spread on farmland.

In 2012 there was flooding and
many farmers were unable to gather
sufficient fodder to meet the needs of
the cattle for the winter. Some have
reduced stock numbers and others
have purchased expensive feed from other areas. There have been
production difficulties with dairy
herds and health targets have had to
be reassessed.

Beef cattle born in 2012 are now
said to be six months behind in
weight. The flooding that started in
late December 2013 and accelerated
through the early part of this year has
therefore followed an already difficult
period for the farmers.

Through social networking the
fodder relief scheme grew and initially
it was the more modern farms with
buildings on the levels that had their
stored supplies flooded.

Around a dozen herds had to be
evacuated to any available
accommodation. Some 50 farms have
received donated fodder to keep stock
fed. The more traditional moorland
farms had buildings on higher land
and were able to manage a little better.

Indefinite delay

Now, however, the land that would be
grazed is not available and some 700
farms are believed to require help.
Turn-out is delayed indefinitely. Some
sections of land are said to be
“greening up” but soil compaction
and acidity are issues.

It is expected that acres will be
ploughed and seeded as soon as
possible with the hope of growing
food for next winter. There are
restrictions on land that is part of
Natural England stewardship schemes
and those farmers are waiting to see
what is acceptable. It is said that
Natural England is being very helpful
but the next few weeks of activity will
directly influence production for next
year and beyond.

There are well-known disease
issues associated with water including
leptospirosis, liver fluke and rumen
fluke. Many large businesses are
already involved in helping the
farmers and it may be that some of
the veterinary pharmaceutical
companies are looking to help with vaccination or diagnostic support.

For the veterinary practices with farmer clients who have had flooded
land it would be very useful to learn
of the experiences of other vets
working in areas that have been
flooded in the past. In recent years
many parts of the country have
experienced flooding.

Of concern is that changes to the
content of fodder due to elements
within the floodwater may not be seen
for two to three years. Fertility is
perhaps one of the direct concerns. It
is anticipated that the larger dairy
herds will receive ongoing veterinary
advice and support and get themselves
sorted out but the people involved
with the flooded farms are worried
about the “dog and stick” farmers.

Various support organisations have
come together and this includes the
rural stress organisations. It is
anticipated that with the withdrawal of
the Dutch pumps and the intensive
clear-up activity there will be a need
for emotional support to go along
with practical help.

As well as the farms, many homes
and businesses were flooded and for
some people the problems are now

Free fodder distribution

During the rest of this year the
distribution of free fodder is expected
to continue and farms are being
assessed on the basis of need.

Donations of money are being
received and the Seat Toledo, the roof
of which was seen widely on
television as boats passed it parked on
the road, was sold on eBay with a
spoof bid of over £100,000. There
was a genuine bidder with the money
to be donated to the disaster fund and
it may yet yield effective support. To
date there have been nearly 800

Veterinary surgeons who have
experience of the effects of
floodwater on livestock are invited to
share their experiences. The need to
recognise potential problems and to
initiate effective prevention strategies,
based on case histories, would be an
effective contribution to disaster relief.
Hopefully, those with experience will
indicate that all will be well and that
nature heals itself.

n With thanks to Ann Langdon for
talking about her ongoing experiences
with the fodder relief effort.

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