Young farming couple plea for help as 58 sheep are killed by flash floods in Cumbria

A Cumbrian farming couple has issued a desperate plea to their local authorities for help managing the River Derwent near Keswick after a flash flood last week led to the loss of 58 ewe lambs.

Dan Simpson and Ruby Cappleman of Seatoller Farm, Borrowdale, experienced the 'worst day of their lives' last Friday (30 September), when unexpected heavy rain caused the fields around their farm to flood.

The water rose to over 1.5 metres deep in just four hours when the River Derwent, which starts at Seathwaite and runs into Derwent Water, burst its banks. Met Office figures show 97.2mm of rain fell at Seathwaite on Friday.

This is the first time the couple of the National Trust tenanted farm have seen flooding on this scale, having been farmed by the family for the past 20 years.

The flooding in Cumbria. Image: Ruby Cappleman

The young couple, who took on the tenancy five years ago from Dan's parents, Stephen and Christine, say action to dredge the river must happen soon before lives are lost.

They have set up a petition calling for action from the Environment Agency and local Rivers Trust to manage the River Derwent. This gained over 1,000 signatures in just 24 hours after it was launched at the weekend.

The cost of losing their stock, which consisted of Herdwick and Swaledale ewe lambs, is expected to run into tens of thousands of pounds, not accounting for almost a whole generation of breeding being wiped out.

Ms Cappleman said: "I can't describe the heartache seeing our stock, which we have looked after and are the future of our flock, be helplessly washed away.

National Trust tenant farmers Dan Simpson and Ruby Cappleman of Seatoller Farm in the Borrowdale Valley of the Lake District National Park, in Cumbria: 11 February 2019 STUART WALKER Stuart Walker Photography 2019

"Dan was at the auction when I first noticed the severity of the flooding and he returned home straight away, only to end up stranded a mile from home. A local farmer managed to get him home. Meanwhile, I helplessly tried to catch lambs as they floated past whilst nearly knee deep. I only managed to save three with the help of two neighbours before it got too dangerous.

"If something doesn't happen soon, lives will be lost,” she said. “The roads surrounding the farm were cut off, and the water was over Dan's tractor tyres as he tried to return stranded children from the local school to their homes in Borrowdale," she added.

Of 148 sheep in the field neighbouring the river, 58 lambs were lost.

Ms Cappleman added: "We live in the wettest place in England, and it's unacceptable that four hours of rain can cause so much devastation. The river should be able to cope with longer periods of rain before it causes absolute chaos."

The cost of losing their stock, which consisted of Herdwick and Swaledale ewe lambs, is expected to run into tens of thousands of pounds, not accounting for almost a whole generation of breeding being wiped out.

At the time of writing, a representative from Copeland MP Trudy Harrison's office had been in touch to try and coordinate a meeting with the Environment Agency, NFU and local Council. The National Trust has also visited the property today (Monday) and will look into the issue immediately.

Ms Cappleman said: "We are waiting on a date for a meeting, and hopefully, from this, swift action will be taken to manage the river.

"Dredging may not be the complete solution, but I expect that alone would make a huge difference due to the number of stones in the river bottom," she concluded.

You can sign the petition here

The water rose to over 1.5 metres deep in just four hours when the River Derwent, which starts at Seathwaite and runs into Derwent Water, burst its banks.
The ewe lambs were caught up in flash flooding with 58 killed. Image: Ruby Cappleman