Coronavirus: The biggest threat to our rural communities in history?

At the beginning of last month, I was filming for ITV Cymru Wales' current affairs programme Coast & Country.

We were in sunny Snowdonia, in the middle of lambing.

Amongst the musical notes of spring birdsong, the bleat of sheep at pasture and the sun on our backs after a long and wet winter, coronavirus was not even in our thoughts.

Instead, I spent the day talking to a passionate family of sheep farmers about exciting summer plans, and looking forward to this year's Royal Welsh Show.

Before the coronavirus pandemic hit Wales, I had been filming lambing season in Snowdonia Credit: Hannah Thomas

But little more than two weeks after that sunny spring shoot, Britain was in lockdown.

The Royal Welsh Show was cancelled on scientific and governmental advice, and all of a sudden, the rest of spring and summer looked a gloomy time indeed.

Overnight, our lives were turned upside down - wherever we were in Wales.

  • 'Destination' Wales is closed for business

Parody posters circulated on social media deterring people not to visit Wales

For our rural communities, that meant completely changing the message they had spent years giving out. "Destination Wales" was no longer open, but closed. The shutdown of the tourism industry was a bitter blow, but one officials had to take in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Nobody wanted people living 200 miles away to bring the virus in with them.

The healthcare systems in our coastal and countryside communities are not geared up for an influx of seriously ill patients. Sadly, not everybody has stuck to the rules. And efforts are still ongoing today to keep visitors and sightseers away.

Signs in some rural and tourist areas showed the strength of feeling among residents

But when the time is right to do so, rural Wales will welcome people back with open arms. These communities are made up of businesses like caravan parks, campsites, B&Bs, ice cream shops, gift shops, bars, restaurants, adventure sport centres and tourist attractions.

They begin making their money at this time of the year, so it must have been such a nasty pill to swallow watching Wales bask in the hottest April on record.

These places would have had a bumper Easter, which would have set them up for the season ahead. Instead they're counting daily losses and praying that they'll get some sort of summer to resurrect their fortunes. If they don't, there are grave fears many won't survive.

  • Coronavirus eclipses farmers' Brexit concerns

Dairy farmers have seen a 70% drop in demand

And talking of survival, the Welsh farming industry has been hit hard. For the past four years, I've been interviewing farmers across the land who've been worried about the impact of Brexit. It's dominated the agricultural agenda at shows and conferences. But now they've got the fallout from coronavirus to deal with, and many have told me that this eclipses their concerns about Brexit. In fact, they say they haven't seen anything like this before. That's from people who survived crises like BSE and foot & mouth disease.

Panic buying left many supermarket shelves empty Credit: PA

It's easy to think that panic buying and empty supermarket shelves meant good news for our farmers. They are, after all, working to keep our nation fed. But in fact dairy farmers in particular saw a 70% drop in demand, because cafes and coffee shops are closed and there is no straightforward market for their milk.

An obvious solution would be to re-direct that produce into superstores and food shops. But the supply chain is complex and red tape is far from simple to negotiate.

So some of our dairy producers have been pouring their milk down the drain, because their herds are out grazing the green green grass of home at this time of the year, and producing more milk. You just can't tell a cow to stop milking. You can't furlough animals in the same way that you can furlough people.

And so with plenty of milk but no money for it, our dairy sector is in real trouble.

Hybu Cig Cymru predicts that there'll be 2.5 billion fewer trips to eat out in the UK between April and June this year

All this comes in the midst of Great British Beef Week - now in its tenth year.

It does what it says on the tin - tries to showcase British beef. But Welsh red meat promoter Hybu Cig Cymru predicts that there'll be 2.5 billion fewer trips to eat out in the UK between April and June this year. And the closure of steakhouses and top restaurants is having a huge knock on the prices farmers are getting for their beef. There are 500 million extra meals being eaten at home. The consumer, though, is favouring cheaper cuts like mince to cook themselves, rather than more expensive and valuable cuts like roasting joints. So our beef sector has also seen consequences from coronavirus.

The Welsh Government has introduced measures to try and support farmers. But there are many governmental schemes that many in the industry simply are not eligible for.

  • Add to this the burden of isolation

Many farmers look forward to the social aspect of show season Credit: PA

These are people well used to working on their own and going weeks without seeing friends and neighbours. But this year's 'show season' has already been blitzed.

Social distancing guidelines mean that there'll be far less opportunities in the agricultural calendar to meet up with those you only see in rural shows during the summer. And let's face it, we need one another more now, than ever.

It's a long road ahead for all of us. And Covid-19 could just pose the biggest threat to our rural communities in history.

We can only hope that their perpetual resilience will get them through.