Alan Titchmarsh: Tackling the mental health crisis facing our farmers

GROWING up in rural Yorkshire, as a boy I experienced at first hand all that magnificence that our wonderful countryside has to offer.

The Moors, with their beautiful rolling hills were a great place for exploration, and the freedom, fresh air, and green spaces undoubtedly helped me to develop a lifetime’s passion for what came out of this precious ground.

I enjoyed wonderful walks along the River Wharfe, and Wharfedale for me will always be my home patch and, of course, hugely special for that.

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However, I know that life in the countryside is not always this idyllic, and the day-to-day realities for those trying to make a living there can be really quite bleak – particularly in winter.

Alan Titchmarsh is appealing to readers to support farmers this Christmas.

Many farming families struggle to make ends meet, with hill farmers making on average only around £10,000 each year.

Low farm gate food prices, the effects of climate change and livestock diseases all combine to make life on farm even more difficult.

Rough weather causes not only damage to farmers’ property and illness in their animals, but it also makes getting off the farm trickier.

As problem builds on problem, compounded by poor weather conditions, entire livelihoods can be wiped out. It is unfortunately of little surprise that every week, one farmer or more takes their own life.

Prince Charles remains the country's foremost champion of rural issues.

So when The Prince’s Countryside Fund asked me to take part in their new film, I was more than happy to oblige.

Sitting in a barn on a frosty morning in Hampshire I met with Edward Richardson, a farm support worker from FarmCornwall.

FarmCornwall is a charity who have been supported through the Fund’s grant programme for many years, while also organising groups of farmers for The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme in the South West.

I was shocked to discover when talking to Edward how many farmers were suffering from depression.

Not knowing where else to turn, one farmer had been moved to take the anti-anxiety medication prescribed by the vet for his dog.

Another confided that he hadn’t seen or spoken to anybody else in two weeks.

Farming can be an isolating and lonely business to work in, and without the support of organisations such as FarmCornwall and the other terrific farmer networks around the UK, including here in Yorkshire, these people would have nowhere to turn to in their time of need.

I am proud to be an ambassador for The Prince’s Countryside Fund. Set up by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales in 2010, the practical help and encouragement given by The Prince’s Countryside Fund to those who look after our landscape and produce our food is without equal.

Sympathetic to both the environment and those who care for it, the Fund really does reach parts of the countryside that would otherwise be deprived of employment and support, and at the same time it ensures that our natural resources can be handed on to future generations in good shape. In that respect alone, its influence is both unique and vital.

The Fund is reliant on donations from the public in order to give out its grants, which support projects such as FarmCornwall to offer vital lifelines to farming and rural communities throughout the UK.

So this December, whilst you’re tucking into your Christmas turkey or your rib of beef around the table with your loved ones, please, please spare a thought for those who don’t get a break – even on Christmas Day.

It is vital that we continue to support those who care for our landscapes and produce our food whatever the weather, and that we ensure our family farmsand rural communities have a secure future.

When I spoke to Edward, he was certain of one thing – that The Prince’s Countryside Fund saves farms, farming communities, and indeed saves lives.

Please give generously at http://www.princescountrysidefund.org.uk/donate or by texting PCF5 to 70300 to donate £5, and together we can protect the precious British countryside for generations to come.

Alan Titchmarsh is a TV presenter and an ambassador for The Prince’s Countryside Fund. He was born in Ilkley.