Fears of an increase in suicides among farmers hit by winter flooding have triggered a national initiative to help those at greatest risk.

The Farming Community Network charity has joined forces with the Campaign for Awareness of Mental Illness Among Debtors, to provide local “lifelines” for farmers who might be facing overwhelming debt putting them at risk of suicide and self-harm.

Campaigners are drawing up a list of accountants, solicitors, insolvency practitioners and other professionals serving rural communities who have been specially trained to recognise if farmers with serious debt could be at breaking point.

FCN chief executive Charles Smith said: “There is now a very real possibility that the number of suicides among farmers will increase in the months ahead as they have to face the financial consequences of the winter flooding.

“Farmers will do anything to protect their livestock and protect farms that have been passed down from generation to generation and this can add enormous pressure to what, even in normal circumstances, is an acutely stressful business.”

Some farmers were likely to be facing the realisation of huge debts in the aftermath of the floods, said Mr Smith. But help was at hand, he added. “Sadly, often farmers in debt and distress do not call us for help until the bailiff is walking down their drive.”

FCN helpline: 0845 637 9990.