EAST Lancashire farmers have said last year’s unprecedented bad weather has been ‘a nightmare’.

The National Farmers Union has warned many face serious difficulties keeping animals safe and rising feed costs because cattle and sheep could not be left out to grass.

The Environment Agency has launched a special support scheme for farmers with the Ribble River Trust while Lancashire county council’s animal welfare experts are braced for more calls-outs to check livestock welfare in coming weeks.

The scale of the crisis affecting local agriculture was exposed this week by a Facebook page highlighting cattle stranded in a swampy meadow.

Pictures of cows struggling to stand in mud were posted by neighbours of a field near St James’ Road, Church, calling for action to ‘Save the Church Cattle’.

The cows have now been moved, but one nearby resident said: “They didn’t have any shelter and there wasn’t enough grass to eat. One of the cows died with it’s new calf dead next to it. It’s really very upsetting.”

The cows were owned by Accrington farmer Richard Guy of Clough Bottom Farm, Broad Oak Road. Relatives said he had died following a severe illness and declined to comment further.

NFU North-West spokesman Carl Hudspith said: “Farmers have faced real problems with the weather this year but they are very adept at dealing with them.

“They have had to get the livestock into shelter which means they cannot eat grass in the fields. Low temperatures and wet weather means the grass does not grow so there is the cost of extra feed. This makes animals more difficult to sell at market because they have not put on weight as normal.

“Farmers’ first priority is their animals’ welfare but this all increases their costs, the costs to retailers and ultimately prices for consumers.”

Lancashire County Council trading standards chief Paul Noone said: "We have been working with state vets who advised that the cattle on this farm were not subject to unnecessary suffering. Therefore, no formal action was needed.

"It isn't uncommon for fields to get very muddy due to the wet conditions at this time of year. Where farmers need help, we will work to give practical support with welfare issues."

One front-line county animal welfare expert said: “We are braced for more callouts in view of the bad weather this year.”

Andrew Rothwell, NFU Clitheroe group secretary, said: “Basically it’s been a nightmare for farmers.”