Crisis claims farmer's life

Hereford Times May 17, 2001

THE death of a well-respected Herefordshire hill farmer has been linked directly to the traumas he suffered over the foot and mouth disease crisis.

The grieving family of Derek Powell, of Craswall, say he was so devoted to his animals that he could not face the threat of their slaughter.

The possibility of their culling had been causing him great anguish for more than a month, and during that time he had watched as flocks of sheep and herds of cattle in the area had been killed, and burned or taken away.

Ironically, three days after Derek’s death MAFF reported that blood tests on the Blackbill stock had proved negative and at this stage they would not be culled.

His twin brother Raymond said the family had supported him as he got more distressed over the situation.

"But he lived for his animals and became very concerned about the future. It was all bubbling up in his head and it was then, as if like a boil, it just burst," said Raymond. On Tuesday of last week, Derek, who, days before had celebrated his 69th birthday, appeared to have taken his own life, by hanging, in a building at Lower Blackhill Farm, where he was born and had lived all his life.

His family have been shocked by his death and blame it entirely on the foot and mouth crisis.

Just before his death on Tuesday of last week, Derek told his family: "I have worked hard all my life. No drink and no smokes. But things have just got worse. My family are the best, everyone has supported me all the time.

"There is no food now. The sheds are full of sheep and cattle and I have fed them up to now, night and day."

Derek Powell farmed jointly with his brother Raymond, who lives at the neighbouring Geat Blackhill Farm, under the Black Hill in the Black Mountains range.

The business carries 800 Welsh mountain ewes and 50 suckler cows.

Derek Powell was an outstanding hill farmer and was used to the hard work it entailed. But after a long and wet winter the outbreak of foot and mouth disease came as a severe blow.

He became distressed at what he saw on television — the terrible fate of healthy sheep and cattle. As his neighbours’ farms got caught up in the slaughter process he dreaded the day that it might be the turn of the family farm.

Movement restrictions meant that none of the sheep could be moved on to the mountain, there was no way of selling stock and getting an income, and feed was getting less.

With no sign of the restrictions being lifted, Derek worried about the future and what would happen to the farming business.

"But mostly he was upset about the animals and what would happen to them. The animals were his life, but in the end they

caused his death," said his sister-in-law Rene Powell.

On the day of his death Derek made two decisions. He told his family that he had accepted that all the animals would have to be killed, and he would take their advice to seek specialist help to try and get his life back to normal. A few hours later, he died.

"It all came to a head and I think he could see no hope for the future," said his brother.

People in the area have been stunned at the news. Derek had lived his life in Craswall, was a founder member of the Craswall branch of the YFC and had won public speaking competitions in his younger days. He was a champion shearer and a first-class hedger.

Both he and his brother had a countrywide reputation as breeders for 40 years of Welsh mountain ponies. They have 16 mares in their Blackhill stud whose progeny have gone all over the world, and include an international winner, Blackhill Picolo, now in the hands of a French owner.

The funeral service for Derek will take place at Llanveynoe Church tomorrow, Friday, at 2.3Opm. Flowers from family only but donations would be welcome for Llanveynoe and Craswall churches.

Despite the restrictions many farmers and friends are expected to attend and honour the man who would be happy to be remembered as a typical Herefordshire hill farmer who loved his animals only next to his family.

Clergyman’s warning over shadow of foot and mouth

A WARNING that foot and mouth troubles in Herefordshire are far from over has been sounded by Prebendary Frank Rodgers, the Vicar of Clodock and Longtown with Craswall, Llanveynoe, St Margaret’s, Michaelchurch Escley and Newton.

Following the death of hill farmer Derek Powell, he told The Hereford Times:

"There is an intense sadness among local people that the grim events of the last couple of months have ended very tragically for Derek.

"Some have been surprised that he should have been so affected, when his own animals have escaped culling.

"But that’s to underestimate the emotional pressure of knowing your neighbours have had all their animals slaughtered, and living day after day with the threat hanging over you.

"The uncertainty has been harrowing for some families. One day they’ve been told that their animals would all have to be culled, and a few hours later they’re spared. Some farmers have been through that cruel cycle two or three times. It’s mental torture.

"In our six parishes, 37 farms have had all their livestock killed because of foot and mouth disease on three holdings, and subsequent blood tests haven’t even substantiated those. There is quite a lot of anger about because of so much apparently needless slaughter.

"On the face of it many who have had stock culled seem to be bearing up fairly well, but the real testing time may be in the months ahead. People whose lives have revolved round their animals will find empty fields and silent sheds a constant reminder of their ordeal. And for people who have been used to working hard physically all hours, time may well hang heavily on their hands.

"Then, of course, there are the financial worries. Most of those whose farms have been culled have still not received any compensation.

"Those who haven’t had stock culled heard a few weeks back that for animals being slaughtered voluntarily on welfare grounds, the compensation offered would be well below their cost of production.

"Animals that are ready for sale can’t go off because of the restrictions on movements and, so, many families who have escaped the misery of culling still have to contend with having no income for the foreseeable future — and things perhaps getting no better before the autumn. That’s bound to be an on-going cause of hardship and the sort of stress that sometimes ends in tragedy.

"Social events have nearly all been put on hold. Church weeknight activities have been suspended since February and the summer’s events have a question mark over them because of another recent suspected outbreak.

"All in all, the troubles are far from over, and it’s still overshadowing just about every aspect of life for many of us."