A Writtle College student has reflected on her time coordinating the aid response to stricken farmers in flooded Somerset.
Elizabeth Ecclestone, who is in her second year of an Agricultural Business Management (Crop Production) degree at Writtle College, played a major role in coordinating the Essex Young Farmers’ (EYF) Forage Aid initiative to deliver vital supplies and support to the farmers that faced losing their livelihoods.
The experience has been “a life changer” for Lizzie, who saw first-hand the scale of the destruction and the mammoth clean-up task that the farmers are now embroiled in.
The 20-year-old, from Chelmsford, who is Club Secretary of Chelmsford Young Farmers, began helping with Forage Aid over a month ago, when her friend Ed Ford, Vice County Chairman of EYF, developed the plan for a response from Essex.
She said: “I knew this was something I could make a serious impact with. As an Agriculture student at Writtle College destined for the farming world, I couldn’t see other fellow farmers in trouble. It was clear the situation was an emergency with no feed or bedding for evacuated livestock and a whole year’s food supplies submerged by water.”
Ed organised the operation and Lizzie provided vital coordinating support. She initially kept track of the records and took phone calls from people offering donations from the central hub in Childerditch, freeing up Ed to unload tractors and load Tesco lorries to send down to Somerset with vital supplies.
“We decided we would like to head down to Somerset and see the devastation of the floods with our own eyes, to show everyone back home how important our work was and to create a link with Somerset farmers,” she said.
“Unfortunately it was very hard to see all the affected areas as the floods were so deep that access was only available to most areas by boat. Even then, 3ft waves could build up and access was completely impossible. The sights we saw were devastating and absolutely unimaginable. It was like I was looking out to sea, the water was so vast.”
The pair were shown the devastation by farmer James Winslade, whose land was in one of the areas within the village of Moorland where everyone had been evacuated.
On returning home, the operation continued and the pair appeared on a host of national and local television stations, as well as in Farmers Weekly, in order to communicate the scale of the problem and boost donations.
They returned to Somerset for the second time to help with the work at the cattle market and to see the impact of the floodwater as it began to recede.
“We were able to put on waders and have a look around a farm five minutes from the cattle market. The water here was well over 6ft deep in its prime and even then still came up to my chest. The damage to the area, although still submerged, was clear. Oil, rubbish and debris were everywhere and just floating around. The condition of the soil when the water recedes fully is going to be devastating.
“It was during our second trip that we were informed about the severity of theft in the area. Police check points had been constructed in and out of the village of Moorland as thieves had entered the deserted village on boats during the night and taken everything of value.”
Lizzie and Ed, who also appeared on BBC Countryfile to give a taster of how volunteers had rallied to the farmers’ help, returned again to Somerset with five other people from Essex Young Farmers only weeks ago to help clear up a farm.
She said: “Although the fields are still well underwater, the farm itself is now dry and intense cleaning and disinfecting needs to take place before any cattle can return.
“Young Farmers purchased a road sweeper out of the donated money for all the farmers in the area to use. We spent three days cleaning, chain-sawing wood and throwing out destroyed items. Even with all of us there, it hardly feels like we made a dent - the task ahead seems impossible and help is certainly needed down there.”
The next step is to decide the best use for the money already given and to continue to take more donations.
For Lizzie, the whole experience has impacted on her personally.
“Forage Aid has become incredibly personal for me and a real eye opener,” she said. “I have made some amazing life-long friends and to see how thankful everyone was of our work down in Somerset brings a tear to my eye!”