FARMING leaders have warned that up to an estimated 10,000 ewes and lambs have died in the recent snowstorms, costing the industry hundreds of thousands of pounds and leaving farms struggling to stay afloat.

NFU Scotland said the full financial impact of the coldest March in a generation may not be known for six months and called on banks to be sensitive to the pressures facing those affected.

Bodies of dead lambs are still being discovered by farmers in the areas worst hit by last month's cold snap, with some reporting that 4ft-high snow drifts continue to block access to fields.

There are also fears those sheep stuck under deep snow may give birth to stillborn lambs or produce insufficient milk to feed their young.

Yesterday NFU Scotland met with representatives from the country's major banks to encourage a flexible and sensible approach to those farms worst hit by the bad weather.

Allan Bowie, vice-president of NFU Scotland, said: "All the banks present said they were committed to being sensitive to the circumstances and, where appropriate, would look at ways to assist viable farming customers – especially those in the hardest-hit areas."

He added: "The banks did stress it was essential for farmers to be proactive in approaching their bank for discussions rather than letting any problems mount up."

While the late arrival of spring is effecting all livestock and arable farmers, several hundred farms in the worst-affected areas – parts of Dumfries and Galloway, South Ayrshire, Arran and Kintyre – are particularly vulnerable financially.

David Henderson, 38, who helps run the Kilpatrick Farm on the west coast of Arran, said the farm's 40 sheep killed by the snow were expected to produce close to two lambs each.

He said: "It has had a pretty massive financial hit. We have a lot of lambs missing. We will be lucky if we get half the number of lambs we usually have this season, which is 600 to 700."

"The bills are still coming in, but the lambs aren't going to be there to sell. All the costs of fuel and feed are getting dearer this year. You have waited all year to get these lambs out and then this happens. It is heartbreaking."

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead acknowledged some farmers were recovering from the "worst snow in living memory" and said the full effects of the cold snap were yet to be known.

He said: "That's why we have acted quickly by holding emergency discussions with the industry to put in place help and equipment on the ground as well as providing £500,000 support to assist with fallen stock costs.

"I support the NFU Scotland in asking the banks to take a sensitive approach to farmers at this challenging time and agree it's important that farmers in difficulty don't suffer in silence."

Sandy Hay, head of agriculture at Bank of Scotland, said: "We recognise the impact the recent severe weather will have had on many farming businesses and have a strong record of supporting the agricultural industry through challenging times."

She encouraged customers in difficulty who may need extra funds because of the weather to get in touch as soon as possible.