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 You are in: Special Report: 1999: 09/99: Britain betrayed  
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Britain betrayed Tuesday, 14 September, 1999, 14:43 GMT 15:43 UK
Wales: A way of life at risk
Welsh sheep and lamb
The price of lambs has gone down by 40%
By Gaina Morgan, BBC Wales's Farming Correspondent.

The idyllic setting of Llangollen's Horseshoe Pass has provided the backdrop for the Hughes family's farming operations for many generations.

Rhys Hughes and his wife Sian fear that their generation will be the last, and they do not know how much longer they will be able to carry on at their 333-acre farm.

Last year the income generated by their 450 Welsh Mountain ewes and 20 suckler cows was just 3,000. This year they expect to make a loss.

The couple have three sons under the age of six and are applying for Family Credit in an effort to make ends meet .

Sian works two days a week as a school nurse, but she has to rely on friends and family to help clothe her young family and there are few luxuries. Her main concern is how she will feed the boys as they get older and develop bigger appetites.

Rhys says that four years ago his lambs were making 1 per kilo, now the price is just 60p and his costs have risen. Nine-month-old suckler bull calves are making 300 instead of 500 and heifers just 100.

Government and supermarkets blamed

He adds that there is no market for his breeding ewes and he cannot even give away the old ewes which are traditionally sold off to the lowlands for one last productive year on a less harsh farm.

The couple blame the government, and also the supermarkets. They say the government does not want to know about farming.

Rhys made his feelings about supermarkets clear when he prevented a Sainsbury's hot air balloon from landing on his farm. The other balloons from a nearby hot air festival were all allowed to set down.

He said his personal protest was in direct response to the supermarkets' habit of creaming off the major share of the profit margin on livestock.

Rhys says that if the government came up with a retirement scheme for farmers, he and most of his neighbours would be attracted. The mood is desperate.

More than farms at stake

And he fears for the implications for the rural community, the landscape, and the environment. The language, he says, is also at risk.

He and his wife and children speak Welsh, as do their farming neighbours. But Rhys claims that while it is the natural language of the countryside, only a minority speak Welsh in the adjoining urban areas.

The message Rhys, his family and friends want to get across to the government is that the countryside is in grave danger of changing for ever, unless a long-term stragegy is introduced.

The immediate problem is the 1.5m ewes standing on farms in the United Kingdom. They need to be taken out of the system in order to free up the market.

In the meantime, Rhys says he and his friends are becoming increasingly despondent. Farmers and their wives are looking for outside employment simply to survive the winter

Links to more Britain betrayed stories are at the foot of the page.


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