The first emergency shipment of straw has been sent to livestock farms battling the effects of the worst weather for a century in northern Scotland.
The load has been sent to farms on the remote island of Westray, about 60 miles north east of John o’Groats.
Farmers on the island were hit by the highest rainfall for more than 100 years this summer.
As a result some farmers and crofters have struggled to produce enough feed and bedding required for their stock this winter.
The MV Burhou sailed from Montrose Port on Friday 30 October. Weather permitting, the ship will make three trips in order for the required volume of straw to be delivered to the island.
The shipment is the culmination of work carried out by the Westray branch of NFU Scotland, NFUS head office, Scottish government, RSABI and Ringlink Machinery Ring.
The groups organised supplies of straw and hired a cargo vessel to transport it direct to the island.
The Westray NFUS branch identified the volume of straw needed by each of the island’s farmers. The straw was then sourced through machinery ring Ringlink’s members.
While farmers will pay the market rate for the straw, the shipping has been part-funded by the organisers.
Phil Bews, NFU Scotland’s Westray branch chairman, said: “This much-needed straw has helped the island economy – without it farmers would have struggled to have maintain their breeding cow numbers and would have been forced to reduce their herds.
“We really appreciate all the work the different organisations involved have done to make this happen.”
NFU Scotland chief executive Scott Walker added: “A lot of work has been carried out to ensure this vital shipment of straw goes to Westray.
“The exceptional quantities required meant that traditional ferry options were not viable and I am very pleased that we were able to charter a dedicated ship to ensure that the livestock farmers on Westray get the support they need to see them through the winter.”
Mr Walker said the atrocious weather had hit farming across the whole of Scotland.
“The high concentration of cattle on the island of Westray, the volume of straw required and the difficulties involved in getting it there in sufficient time has meant we had to take extraordinary measures to ensure that we protected the farms which are economically critical to the island,” he said.
Scotland’s rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead confirmed that the government had provided a significant contribution towards the cost of the direct shipments.
“I hope this shared endeavour will provide welcome relief to farmers on the island,” he added.
Graham Bruce of Ringlink machinery ring praised the joint effort made by the organisations and farmers.
“It is so important that collectively, our industry is willing and able to generate a genuine desire to work together. The logistics have been handled jointly between the suppliers, hauliers, shipping agent, NFUS and Ringlink, a testimony that co-operation does work.”
John Kinnaird, chairman of rural charity RSABI, added: “We are delighted to be able to help the farmers on Westray – it is what we are here for.
“While RSABI has been delighted to assist Westray farmers and has a wider fund in place to assist shipping straw to Orkney, these are tough times for all who work and live in the Scottish countryside. If anyone out there is struggling, please call us on our confidential helpline – 0300 111 4166 – as we want to help.”