Leader comment: Slaughter of lambs shows nature's life-and-death power

The modern world has insulated many of us from what can be the harsh reality of life.
Severe weather can pose a real threat to sheep during lambing (Picture: Getty)Severe weather can pose a real threat to sheep during lambing (Picture: Getty)
Severe weather can pose a real threat to sheep during lambing (Picture: Getty)

Once a bad harvest would mean famine, suffering and death, now our main problem seems to be too much food. Bad weather may cause disruption, car accidents and blow down trees, but while potentially life-threatening it only rarely results in anything more than inconvenience.

However, the shocking death toll of lambs and ewes during the recent bad weather brings home the fact that we are all ultimately dependant upon the natural world for our survival.

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The National Sheep Association explained that this “perfect storm” of lethal conditions for lambs began last summer, when the lack of dry weather meant not enough winter feed was produced. The Beast from the East then stunted the growth of the grass, leaving many lambs in too poor a condition to survive the repeated snowfalls.

Some sheep farmers are appealing for emergency aid from the Scottish Government, not only because of the loss of their stock but because of the cost of removing the dead bodies. Such is the carnage that fears have been expressed for the mental health of the worst affected farmers.

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Despite the popular idea of farmers as wealthy landowners, it should be noted that their median income last year was £12,600 – or about £8,000 less than the average in Scotland – according to the Scottish Government. Food is, obviously, an industry of vital importance so the Government should look favourably on claims and provide help where required as quickly as possible.

Whether ordinary shoppers will notice the difference on supermarket shelves is hard to say. In our globalised world, other suppliers of lamb will doubtless be found if necessary. But we would be wise to pay attention, particularly given the warnings that climate change will need to more storms in the future.

Because, despite all our advances and ingenuity, it is still true that we live or die on the productivity of the land.

As James Curran, the former chief executive of the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, said in 2015, quoting from a Sanskrit Scripture from 1500 BC: “Upon this handful of soil our survival depends. Husband it and it will grow our food, our fuel, and our shelter and surround us with beauty. Abuse it and the soil will collapse and die, taking humanity with it.”