The Courier

Farmer volunteer numbers down after ‘beast from the east’ heroics

Farmers were forced to help clear the snow earlier this year - and one Fife councillor is predicting chaos this winter.

During the winter ‘beast from the east’, farmers were lauded for clearing roads, rescuing stranded travellers and ensuring NHS staff made it to work.

But the number of volunteer farmers registered with Perth and Kinross Council to clear public roads in event of similar conditions this winter has fallen and the council is only taking on new recruits if they come from an area with little current coverage.

Five farmers have withdrawn from the scheme that sees the council equip them with a snow plough in exchange for an agreement to a clear a stretch of public road, leaving 62 farmers registered. A further 29 have an agreement to do paid shifts if called on to do so.

Councillor Mike Barnacle, a Kinross-shire independent, raised the issue during a debate on the environment and infrastructure committee’s £3.6m winter maintenance budget.

“I note that the number of farmers is down on previous years and you will only take applications from areas where there is little present coverage. Are we not promoting this enough?” he asked.

Stuart D’All, deputy manager for the Perth and Kinross roads maintenance partnership, said he had noted the fall but was not sure about the reasons behind it.

“We don’t know if it’s a generational thing. If younger farmers are more reluctant to participate in the scheme and if that’s the reason, but we are down on numbers,” he told the committee.

David Lawrie, 26, a dairy farmer from Kinross and chairman of the Scottish Association of Young Farmers’ Clubs (SAYFC), said he had not heard about the scheme operating in his local area. He said the drop could be down to the workload on family-owned businesses.

“Farmers are more stretched than they have ever been. Some would have had a man working all winter and this would have been a job they might have done, but now they can’t dedicate someone to clearing roads.”

Councillors agreed the £3.6m winter maintenance budget for the coming year.

Committee papers confirmed spending on winter services rose by around £1.7m from 2016/17 to 2017/18, up from around £3.4m to £5m as workers tackled the most severe weather for 13 years.

D’All said that they had managed to deal with the weather “fairly well” so there would be “no huge changes for the coming winter.”

He said the council would be extending the night shift service by two additional night shift routes, more wheelbarrows would be offered to the community, and the workers would make less frequent use of a brine solution as an alternative to rock salt on paths, as the substance had proved ineffective.