FARM SAFETY WEEK is an initiative which launched in 2013 aiming to cut the toll of accidents which give agriculture the poorest record of any occupation in the UK & Ireland. This year’s Farm Safety Week was supported by a greater number of organisations than ever including the Farm Safety Foundation, Farm Safety Partnerships, the Health & Safety Executive, Health & Safety Executive for Northern Ireland and the Health & Safety Authority, Ireland. From falls and transport to child safety – Farm Safety Week (July 6-10) offered five days of themed practical advice and guidance for farmers and comes just after the HSE released the annual workplace fatality statistics for Great Britain in 2014/15.
In 2014/15, 33 fatal injuries to agricultural workers were recorded – a rate 9.12 deaths per 100,000 workers, the same as the average of 33 deaths in the past five years and, unfortunately, an increase from the 27 deaths recorded in 2013/14. According to Iwan Meirion Chairman Wales YFC and Chairman of the Wales Farm Safety Partnership: “While our farmers are among the best in the world, farming continues to have one of the poorest records of any occupation in the UK and Ireland and while all farm accidents are shocking and dreadfully sad, the saddest thing is that they can often be prevented. A fall can lead to long term injuries and make it difficult to keep on farming.
Most Falls from Height accidents occur either because the work is not properly planned, the risks are not recognised, proper precautions are not taken, or the equipment used is either defective, not appropriate, or used incorrectly. Often people about to undertake a job believe it will ‘only take a few minutes’, and take a risk in the hope that simply being very careful will be enough.” Deputy Minister for Farming and Food, Rebecca Evans, added: “We are committed to working together with the sector for a safer farming industry in Wales.
By working with the industry we can do much more to ensure that farmers are equipped with the information and training they need to be able to make that promise to themselves and to their families to come home safe. We want to reduce the number of fatalities and injuries caused to farmers, their families, farm employees and others who come into contact with farm activities and I hope this year’s Farm Safety Week will help bring these numbers down.” Even the most safety conscious farmers can experience the effects of a serious injury. In a recent case, a young farmer from the Dysynni Valley was carrying out routine pruning on fieldside boundaries on the family farm when he was hit by a falling tree crushing his spine. 25-year-old Machynlleth rugby club player Rhys Lewis had graduated from Aberystwyth University and was enjoying a promising rugby career when a falling tree changed his life forever… Rhys had been pruning fieldside boundaries with his father Gwyn when a tree he was felling split in two. Rhys tried to run, but it was too late. “What made it crack, I have no idea,” Rhys explained.
“I tried to run away but the tree hit me. I couldn’t stand up. I shouted for my dad but he couldn’t hear me as he was still using his chainsaw on another tree. It was then that I passed out, for about 60 seconds. When I came to, my dad had realised what had happened.” Rhys tried to move his legs but found he was unable to: “I thought I was in a bad dream and that I was going to wake up any moment,” he continued. On the flight to North Staffordshire Hospital, Rhys was already starting to rationalise the accident and work out his future. After a transfer to Gobowen Orthopaedic Hospital, Rhys was already coming to terms with his new life.
The most important thing, he concluded, was not to mope: although he remained in hospital for eight weeks, one day after his release, he made sure he was at the Royal Welsh Show, surrounded by friends enjoying Wales’ premier farming event. “Nothing’s changed from a social point of view,” he smiled. Rather than dwell on his misfortunes, Rhys’ positive approach has won him many admirers including Lisa Markham, an equine enthusiast and family friend who has set up the Apel Rhys Appeal so Rhys can pursue his dreams of a para-sporting career.
But the inspirational young farmer won’t stop there, his long-term goal is to one day walk again! Rhys’ story reinforces that fact that farm workers of any age run the risk of injury or death from falls or falling objects. Iwan added: “Falling objects can be a frequent danger on farms. Falls are one of the most common causes of death and serious injury, especially among older farmers who are less flexible. However farmers and farm workers of any age run the risk of injury or death from Falls. It is vital that the farming community take the time to think about what they are doing and what might go wrong. Don’t learn safety by accident!” #FarmSafetyWeek
Conservation groups don’t like ‘unpalatable truth’
THE FARMERS’ Union of Wales has warned that conservation bodies have their heads in the sand over the devastating impact badgers have had on hedgehog numbers, and are doing conservation a great disservice by scapegoating farmers.
The State of British Hedgehogs 2018 report released on February 7 by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species estimates that hedgehog numbers have halved since the beginning of the century, and places the lion’s share of the blame on intensive farming.
However, world leading hedgehog expert Dr Pat Morris, author of The New Hedgehog Book, wrote in his 2006 book “The implications [of high badger population densities] for hedgehog survival are serious…ignoring the issue or pretending that badgers exist only by harmless drinking of rainwater doesn’t help at all.”
A survey of badger numbers between November 2011 and March 2013 found that badger numbers in England and Wales have increased by between 70% and 105% in the past 25 years.
“Dr Morris is named in the State of British Hedgehogs 2018 report as the instigator of the first survey of hedgehogs based on animals killed on roads, but no mention is made of his concerns regarding high badger numbers having such a devastating impact on hedgehogs.
The issue is dismissed and swept under the carpet, despite overwhelming scientific evidence of the impact of badger predation, while farmers are effectively singled out as being to blame,” said FUW President Glyn Roberts.
A 2014 peer reviewed study of hedgehog numbers in ten 100km2 areas where badgers were culled in England found that “…counts of hedgehogs more than doubled over a 5-year period from the start of badger culling, whereas hedgehog counts did not change where there was no badger culling.”
Mr Roberts said: “Of course there are areas where intensive farming has had a detrimental impact on hedgehog numbers, but it is simply wrong to paint the whole of the UK as being like that – the fall in hedgehog numbers has in fact coincided with farmers planting more hedges.”
Mr Roberts added that this view was backed up by the RSPB, who said that losses of managed hedges appear to have halted in the mid-1990s, while the net length of hedges in the UK was stable or increasing.
The British Hedgehog Preservation Society and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species report said it was planning to engage with the farming community to ‘stem the alarming decline of our country hedgehogs’.
The likelihood is that there is a range of events causing impacts on the hedgehog population. Certain types of pesticides affect the hedgehog’s food chain, while larger and more open fields with less substantial hedgerows might also contribute to hedgehog predation and decline. The increased use of road vehicles is a certain factor, as is urban and suburban spread. Unusually, domestic pets are not a major hazard for hedgehog populations.
In rural Wales, however, the dramatic explosion in badger populations cannot be ignored as a significant factor in driving the decline of hedgehog numbers.
In the early-2000s, an investigation was carried out by the Small Mammal Specialist Group into patterns in hedgehog and badger populations across hundreds of square kilometres of rural southwest England and the midlands. One important finding was that hedgehogs appeared to be absent from large swathes of pastoral grasslands where they are thought to have once been commonplace. The group surveyed hedgehogs in a number of areas which were geographically and ecologically similar, but with different levels of badger culling.
Hedgehog numbers in suburban areas doubled during the five years of badger culling, and remained static in areas without culling. This demonstrated for the first time that badger predation is a strong limiting factor for hedgehog populations in these particular habitats.
Until the mid to late 20th century, heavy persecution of badgers kept them at low numbers. The Badgers Act of 1973 introduced protections, enhanced by the 1992 Protection of Badgers Act. Consequently surveys published in January 2014 revealed that in the 25 years since the first survey in 1985-88, the number of badger social groups in England has doubled to around 71,600.
In pasture-dominated and mixed agricultural landscapes, and in some suburban habitats, badgers thrive with have plentiful denning opportunities and abundant food resources. The largest increases in the density of badger social groups have occurred in the landscapes that dominate southern, western and eastern England. These are also the areas where hedgehog declines are likely to be most severe.
While nobody is suggesting that badgers be culled to improve biodiversity and give hedgehogs a chance of re-establishing themselves, the refusal to acknowledge evidence which they find inconvenient suggests that the weight that can be given to the Hedgehog Survey is questionable.
Glyn Roberts suggested that those ignoring the evidence were simply unprepared to face the truth about natural predation: “By sweeping under the carpet the unpalatable truth that badgers eat hedgehogs, and that the doubling in badger numbers has had a catastrophic impact on hedgehog numbers, and scapegoating farmers by highlighting outdated ideas about hedge removal, conservation bodies are doing a huge disservice to hedgehogs and conservation.
“In fact, they are doing exactly what Dr Pat Morris warned of in his Hedgehog Book – burying their heads in the sand by pretending increased badger numbers are not a major threat to hedgehog survival.”
Charities benefit from breakfast fundraising
THE EQUIVALENT of a year’s farm income (£13,000) has been raised by the Farmers’ Union of Wales, for its charitable causes – Alzheimer’s Society Cymru and The Farming Community Network.
Speaking about the success of the FUW’s farmhouse breakfast week at the end of January, Union President Glyn Roberts said: “Our staff, members and wonderful volunteers have done an incredible job in raising what is the equivalent of a year’s farm income for many farms in Wales for our chosen charities.
“Farming communities are close-knit communities and this shows what can be achieved when we all come together, with a common goal. Through these events, where we all sat around the kitchen table to talk and share our thoughts about #FarmingMatters, we’ve strengthened ongoing and permanent relationships and established new ones.
“The money we have raised in our rural communities will go towards helping others in our communities – we must never forget that our communities are the engine room of people powered change and also that this strength of community has the power to hold governments to account.”
FMD plans tested
GOVERNMENT departments around the UK are set to carry out simulation exercises to test contingency plans for dealing with any future outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.
Exercise Blackthorn involved the Animal and Plant Health Agency, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), Scottish Government, Welsh Government and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland are set to test their current state of readiness over the next few months.
The EU Directive 2003/85/EC requires Member States to exercise their contingency plans either:
- twice within a five year period; or
- during “the five year period after the outbreak of a major epizootic disease has been effectively controlled and eradicated.”
The first simulation exercise took place on Thursday, February 8, with a further table-top exercise on March 8 followed by a real-time exercise on April 25 and 26 April.
Exercise Blackthorn will end on June 7 with a final table-top exercise. UK chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens said regular testing of contingency plans was an important part of making sure the authorities can respond to outbreaks.
“Exercises like this provide an opportunity for teams across government and industry to engage and to learn lessons in a controlled and safe environment,” he said.
“The risk of foot-and-mouth disease arriving in the UK is low but ever present. Government monitors disease outbreaks and incidence around the world assessing risk for the UK and taking action to mitigate risk where possible.”
After being free of FMD since 1968, Great Britain suffered a return of the disease in 2001. The entire outbreak lasted for 221 days and had a devastating impact on the farming industry, rural community and the wider economy across the UK. The UK was officially declared disease free on 22 January 2002.
An exercise evaluation report will be published in the autumn.
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