Bitterly cold start to summer killed dozens of animals in Cotswolds during ‘worst incident since 1980s’

Farmer Ed Albutt with some of his sheep on Cleeve Common
-Credit: (Image: Robin Jenkins)

A livestock farmer in the Cotswolds says the unusually cold start to the summer was the worst for decades, costing him thousands of pounds and causing him and his family heartache. Ed Albutt is one of many farmers in the UK who counted the cost of a sustained period of cold and wet weather.

Over two weeks, straddling the end of May and beginning of June, dozens of his sheep died on Cleeve Hill. At 1,083ft, it is the highest point in Gloucestershire and the highest peak of the Cotswold hills.

Ed, whose family have run Postlip Hall Farm, near Winchcombe, for generations, said between 40 and 50 sheep perished on Cleeve Common - with most of them being lambs that were between four and six weeks old. They died from exposure, with cold winds in the day and night proving too much for them.

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The experienced farmer said a massive storm came in while the animals were grazing on the land. He said: “The poor lambs were in the gorse bushes taking shelter but the air was so cold. They were inhaling it into their lungs. They just couldn’t take it.

“For the first time ever, we took 500 ewes and 750 lambs off the hill and took them back into the homesteading. The windchill was the worst we’ve ever known. We’ve had sheep on the common since the 1970s.

“It took three hours getting the sheep off the hill with the rest of my family. My arms, on the quad bike, were blue. It was that cold.”

He added: “The last time we lost a similar amount was in the late 1980s. It was April 25 and we had a late snow storm. We lost 50 to 100 then but that was a one-off snow storm late in the year.

"What we had this year was continuous. It was basically wet from last October until well into June.”

Ed said dealing with the deaths of some of his lambs, due to unusually cold weather on the common, had been “soul- destroying”
Ed said dealing with the deaths of some of his lambs, due to unusually cold weather on the common, had been “soul- destroying” -Credit:Robin Jenkins

The cold wind also gave dozens of the ewes mastitis, meaning Ed had to rear the lambs by hand. Of those that perished, many were found dead on the common and some died later despite being given medication.

He said: “It’s very soul-destroying. The financial cost is the financial cost but, above that, every day you went out and picked up dead lambs.

“By the end of the week, you were exhausted. You felt very low. We accept losses but we do everything we can to prevent them.”

Michael Bates, executive officer of the Cleeve Common Trust, which manages the land, said the deaths of so many sheep in a short space of time had been “very unusual”. And he said its gorse bushes had gone brown on top in the cold wind, which was also “highly unusual”.

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