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Legacy left by united response to Cumbrian floods is honoured at British Farming Awards

The Cumbria Farming Flood Action Group (CFFAG) has been honoured with the Farmers Guardian Farming Hero of the Year Award – sponsored by AFP.

It wasn’t predicted, it wasn’t expected and a response in order to deal with the aftermath certainly hadn’t been planned for. But when 1.15 million litres of rain fell on already sodden Cumbrian ground, leading to the worst flooding the county had seen in a lifetime – help was needed, and quickly.

It’s fair to say Storm Desmond, which made an unexpected and unwelcome appearance in December 2015, proved that the support network that surrounds the Cumbrian agricultural industry is something that ought to be cherished and celebrated.

NFU North West Regional Director David Hall was one of the founders of the group and with the help of NFU’s Membership and Regions Directorate, provided the funding to employ a full time staff member in Jenny Willis to support farmers in the area.

David said: “Competitors and strangers instantly put their personal and business priorities on the backburner, gathered together, formed a group and managed to ease the pain and suffering for the hundreds of Cumbrian farmers they work with on a daily basis. Storm Desmond hit the farming community hard with many losing stock, fencing and walls. Then there were those who faced the task of clearing thousands of tonnes of gravel from their land.”

The Farmers Guardian Farming Hero of the Year Award pays tribute to the work of the Cumbria Farming Flood Action Group (CFFAG) which is made up of the following organisations and charities – Westmorland Agricultural Society, NFU, Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institute (RABI), Farmer Network, , Farm Community Network (FCN), Addington Fund, Forage Aid, Cumbrian Chaplaincy, Federation for Common Land, Cumbria Commoners Association and the CLA.

RABI Regional Manager Georgina Lamb said: “CFFAG is an excellent example of how the sum of the total is greater than the whole and, importantly, will leave a long lasting legacy. If the organisations that make up CFFAG had not come together, there would have been hundreds of man hours wasted in duplicated effort which would have led to greater confusion for the farming community during the flood.

Each member played to their strengths and ensured the best possible outcome. Good working relationships have been developed between the members of CFFAG and channels of communication are now faster and stronger than they were previously.”

Christine Knipe, Chief Executive of Westmorland Agricultural Society, added: “We were able to provide vital support to farmers who were most in need during these terrible floods and are very
thankful to the Prince’s Countryside Fund for funding which helped make this happen.

It’s been a tough road but the group can be really proud of the results we all achieved by coming together, made even more special with the presentation of this special award. Farm businesses need our ongoing support during these uncertain times so I hope this award encourages others to work together in the future to help our rural communities.”

What CFFAG did
• RABI was the first charity to respond in giving financial support to the farming community. They didn’t wait on the end of a phone to be asked for help. Instead RABI Regional Manager Georgina Lamb actively looked for those farmers who needed assistance but are prone to remaining silent. Her message of ‘we’re here for you’ was repeated time and time again in the county’s auction marts where she was guaranteed a captive audience. She encouraged friends and families of those affected to tell loved ones about the help available.
• Via its extensive network of contacts, the NFU successfully lobbied for the Farming Recovery Fund which had 596 applications worth a total value of £6.76 million. Around a third of the farmers accessing the fund will have had direct support from an organisation involved in CFFAG and a far wider group benefitting from the work the partners did throughout the recovery period. Making an application to the fund was not easy. Photographs of damage, measurements of the length of walls or fences lost, areas under gravel needed to be measured and three quotes for work to commence were required. This was clearly a very daunting task for many farmers, so the NFU put a full time person in place to help farmers make applications.
• Trying to assess the impact of the damage highlighted that there was no information about the scale and likely cost of repair. The members of CFFAG agreed that an assessment of the damage was needed and the NFU, Westmorland Agricultural Society and The Farmer Network compiled a survey which would gather the information required. This was funded in part by the Princes Countryside Fund following an application made by Federation for Common Land. The coordinators from the Farmer Network, Westmorland Agricultural Society and the NFU started to make phone calls to farmers in the affected areas. This turned out to be a more time consuming task than first envisaged as many farmers were just glad to speak to someone. After five weeks and several hundred phone calls the survey was complete. The team gathered data from more than 200 farms of the 650 Defra estimated had been affected. This was then analysed and assessed by the NFU before a final report was produced.
• Many farmers lost forage in the flooding as bales of hay, silage and straw were washed away downstream. Forage Aid was quick to mobilise their team and donations of fodder and haulage were offered around the country. As farmers made contact requesting forage, their details were passed to charities Farm Community Network (FCN) and RABI which assessed their needs and ensured claimants received what they required. Many tonnes of donated forage then began its long journey up the M6 to central points in the county to be distributed further as required.

A farmer who was helped by CFFAG
David Martin – Farmer from Lords Plain, Levens, Kendal, Cumbria
“After Storm Desmond struck in December we were left with a flooded house, cottage and farm buildings. Also nearly all the fields were under several feet of water. In the aftermath of all this chaos the Cumbria Farming Flood Action Group was quickly formed bringing together a whole host of organisations to act collectively as one. This one coherent group made a massive difference to flood affected farmers by firstly assessing the extent of damage and then laying the foundations for farmers to access funding to cover uninsured losses. This was a great relief in a time of immense stress. This is why I think Cumbria Farming Flood Action Group is a worthy winner of the Farming Hero of the Year Award.”
The awards ceremony, which is now in its fourth year, was held last night [Thursday 20th October] at the Chateau Impney Hotel, Droitwich. Olympian Sally Gunnell OBE, a farmer’s daughter who hails from Chigwell, Essex, also attended as the guest speaker.

Notes to editors
The Cumbria Farm Flood Action Group includes: The Addington Fund, CLA, Cumbria Agricultural Chaplaincy, Farming Community Network (FCN), The Farmer Network, Federation of Cumbria Commoners, Forage Aid, Foundation for Common Land, National Farmers Union (NFU), Mitchells Auction Co. Ltd, RABI and Westmorland Agricultural Society.

For more information, additional quotes or photographs, please call NFU Communications Adviser Carl Hudspith on 01695 554913. The NFU’s Flickr account will be updated during and after the awards ceremony. Images of flooding, the group and photos taken at the awards ceremony can be downloaded from here – https://www.flickr.com/photos/nfunorthwest/albums
NFU North West Regional Director David Hall (07587 036934), RABI Regional Manager Georgina Lamb (07917114250) and Chief Executive of Westmorland County Agricultural Society (07799 831189) are happy to be interviewed by print, radio and television