16 March 2001

Living in fear is becoming norm in north-west…

As the foot-and-mouth

disaster deepens, FW

correspondents in the

north-west, south-west,

north-east, Wales and

Scotland join forces to

give their personal

accounts of the savage

toll this disease is

taking in our

countryside

WITH more than a quarter of the countrys foot-and-mouth cases in north-west England, farmers here are living on a knife edge.

The majority of cases have direct links with the original source of infection in Northumberland. But a spate of new outbreaks on holdings totally unconnected with the infected sheep marketed through Longtown now threatens to sweep foot-and-mouth across a much broader swathe of Cumbria.

Its an emotional roller-coaster. In the hot-spot of outbreaks west of Carlisle farmers are never far from local radio bulletins as they monitor the spread of the disease. They track its progress in military fashion, pin-pointing its latest advance almost hour by hour, measuring the distance between themselves and the latest victim.

The Lake Districts fell flocks are about a month away from lambing. Every hill farmer in the county is holding his breath, praying the disease wont creep into the vast areas of fell land and leave its fatal taint on a sector of farming which this spring had promised to herald a turning point towards better times.

Feeling safe can no longer be taken for granted. One west Cumbrian dairy farmer could not believe it when he noticed that some of his cattle were off their feed.

The next day they began to show signs of the disease. The farm is well off the road, secluded and cut off from other holdings. There is only one way in and the farmer and his family had not been off the farm for three weeks.

The diggers worked through the night to prepare the burial pit for the farms 100 cows and youngstock. At least the family were spared days of acrid smoke bellowing across the farm – this was the first holding in Cumbria where slaughtered stock were buried and not burned.

This week, a local pig farmer with buildings bursting with finished pigs was given a salutary piece of advice from MAFF. After he was refused to move his pigs for slaughter, ministry officials said he would be given permission to shoot them himself.

The horror stories continue but those with scorched fields and empty buildings now turn their attention to the future and ask what measures are being put in place to stop foot-and-mouth erupting again. The future of UK farming depends as much on the cause as the effect.

Jeremy Hunt