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No happy endings in nature

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County Antrim, Northern Ireland

By Cathal McNaughton

When the snow started falling on Thursday afternoon nobody in the Glens of Antrim could have predicted the devastating impact it would have on the farming community. Sub-zero temperatures and heavy snow fall combined with strong easterly winds produced 30 foot snowdrifts.

The rolling hillsides, where just a week previously daffodils had swayed in the breeze in the watery spring sunshine, now lay covered in an unseasonable layer of deep snow. But below the beautiful winter wonderland landscape the tragic reality of nature lay hidden - thousands of sheep buried with their farmers unable to reach them.

Many of the ewes were ready to lamb and were buried alive as the snow blew into drifts several feet high. When I met with family friend Keith McQullan and his farm manager Donald O'Reilly at his hill farm in Aughafatten in Glenarm Glen on Tuesday morning they were unusually quiet. Keith owns several hundred sheep across the remote north Antrim hills – only accessible by quad or by tractor - where he has farmed all his life.

They had just managed to reach the area where they had last seen their sheep four days earlier. But where there had been flocks of 30 and 40, only a few remained. Those left were in a pitiful state with frozen limbs, stiff with the cold and barely strong enough to bleat. Many had lost their lambs as soon as they were born - others had left their babies to die in the snow as they battled for their own survival.

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