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Monday, 9 April, 2001, 12:07 GMT 13:07 UK
Is it too early to go back to the countryside?
Prime Minister Tony Blair has urged people to return to the countryside in an effort to revive the tourist business that has been devastated by the foot and mouth crises.
Mr Blair said the public perception that the country was out of bounds needed to change. He promised that no effort was being spared in controlling and eradicating the disease.
The rural tourist industry is losing an estimated £100m a week, and is set for record low revenues for the Easter break.
Is it safe to go back to the countryside? With movements still restricted, would it be enjoyable? Or is the risk of further spreading the disease too great?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Roger W, UK
The Government say that 'vets have found no evidence that the disease is being spread by tourists or ramblers'. This is hardly surprising bearing in mind that there has been neither species for the past 6 weeks.
The leaders of all political parties could make an immediate pledge to hold their next party conferences in the areas that have suffered from a diminution in tourist income, rather than spending money in seaside resorts that have not been affected by the foot-and-mouth outbreak. This would have the dual effect of bringing money back into these areas, and showing that they have a real practical commitment to reviving rural tourism.
We have been hopping mad every time first Michael Meacher and now Tony Blair have told us the countryside is open. Here in Dorset it certainly isn't, and shouldn't be. Even rural car parks have been closed so all you can do to enjoy the countryside is drive past it. Entrances to footpaths are closed off with "Police Do Not Cross" tapes accompanied by official notices warning of a £5000 fine for failure to comply. In what way is the countryside open Mr Blair?
Will Mr Blair please explain to me just how do I go for a walk in the countryside and "avoid livestock"? The man is crazy - of course it is too early for tourists.
I have just returned from an international conference in Australia, where I was able to discuss this subject with people from all over the world. I was surprised at how widespread and crippling people thought the outbreak to be. When I turned on my hotel TV and switched to BBC World, I was confronted with half-hourly bulletins leading with footage of huge pyres and heaps of decaying carcasses - and not much else.
Annette H, UK
I live in West Sussex, currently FMD free. All non-urban footpaths are closed and the council has made it clear it doesn't intend to reopen any. Even a local common in the centre of a village that has not seen an animal in 100 years is closed. By all means close areas with farm animals etc, but some actions are just ludicrous! Strange how all the golf courses are still open though.
People working in the tourist industry need to look at the situation from the perspective of an urban dweller. Then hoteliers, bus companies/ taxi firms, restaurants and visitor attractions could put together 'responsible tourist' packages.
Attract people back to the countryside by offering them an organised tour of attractions in coaches or taxis that keeps them away from animals (and unpleasant sights), but offers them plenty to see and do.
If only we could vaccinate the country could be fully open in 7 weeks, and our pedigree herds and flocks saved. The NFU is sacrificing the tourist industry for one that generates less than half its revenue. Frankly, who wants to visit GB at the present time? Continentals are appalled by the mass slaughter of livestock and farmers have been seriously misled as to the economic facts of vaccination.
Tony S, UK
Please come to the countryside to enjoy a pleasant day out with your family. In my area, the Forest of Dean, many attractions are open for business and you can also enjoy the experience of explaining to your children what the terrible smell is (rotting carcasses); why the whole area appears to be under a thick blanket of fog (smoke from the many pyres); and why all the sheep and cows are being burnt. I hope you will enjoy the whole experience as much as the local residents.
Why can't walkers and ramblers have a little patience and understanding? Chris Stanbury is feeling that his freedom has been restricted by his inability to walk through the countryside. The epidemic will be over sooner if he just waits a little longer and hugs a tree in his own back garden.
At least two people have made the point that no outbreaks have been caused by walkers. Of course not, there aren't any walkers because the paths are closed to shut off that route of infection. If the no entry signs come down the stiles will be coming down with them.
Let the government concentrate all its efforts on the task of sorting the problem of foot-and-mouth. This means using the best intelligence available and every scrap of advice and resource they can lay hands on, with minimal consideration of the cost. If the disease is contained and eliminated quickly, the consequences to the farming and other industries will be contained and return to normal accelerated. Sending a signal that it's OK for hoards of ill informed tourists to wander about the countryside is courting disaster, with the strong possibility of spreading the disease and prolonging the epidemic.
Tom Smith, UK
What exactly are we supposed to do when we go into the countryside - drive around aimlessly? All paths in my region are closed, even though there is no foot-and-mouth on the North York Moors. My pastime is trout fishing - for Mr Blair's info, all rivers pass through the countryside. I suppose we can always drive to a country pub (but definitely not walk to it)! For goodness sake, let's have one set of advice from all government departments, not this set of contradictory messages!
It will be very difficult to visit Surrey or Hampshire countryside as every footpath is still closed! And even some town parks are closed. He'd better tell the county councils that the countryside is open first. Or does Blair want us to go for a walk down the motorway?
We all have good and bad times. Unfortunately the farmers have had it bad for a long time - now it's tourism's turn. Well, tough. They will have to hold on in there and accept a bad season. If they have any sense they should stop whingeing, accept that it is going to be a quiet few months and discourage people from travelling. Then with any luck the disease will be at bay by summer and by then everyone will be so desperate to go to the countryside that summer will boom.
Tony Blair's assessment of the need for us townies to go to the countryside in order to show solidarity with our fellow citizens is absolutely correct. We must not give other countries an impression that our land is somehow undesirable. By going to the countryside, we show the world that it is business as usual. Hopefully tourist numbers will pick up too. We must all do our bit to help the farmers and the tourist industry, and our domestic support of the countryside may help achieve this.
Ken Little, UK
Whether people should or shouldn't visit the countryside is not the issue. The plain fact is that most councils have imposed a blanket ban on all rights of way so you CAN'T visit the countryside for walking or rambling (even cycle paths in some areas). For the government to be pretending that everything is open is extremely dishonest. Fine, if you want to drive around or go shopping, but I think most people visit the countryside for quiet outdoor enjoyment, which is just not possible in most areas. This should really be made clear to people so they are not taken in by the government's misleading statements.
For the past 5 years we are spending our holidays in your beautiful country. This coming May we planned to go to Scotland - however, we will cancel our visit this time. As a matter of fact we feel your government is misleading people to persuade them to come over and visit your country. We have many friends living in the UK and we heard from them the situation is like HELL. Apart from all the innocent animals, which really we pity, we cannot imagine that anyone would enjoy - at this very moment - spending their holidays in the UK. Many footpaths and country walks are off limit and only cities can be visited. It would be a waste to visit the UK under the present prevailing circumstances. We would like to see that your government would advise visitors NOT TO COME - although we feel pity for all the people making a living in the tourist industry.
Is there any evidence that walkers have ever been responsible for the spread of foot-and-mouth disease? Animal to animal contact and wind-borne spread of the virus (possibly aided by medieval funeral pyres) seem the most likely reasons. It is probably wise to err on the side of caution and exclude walkers from land on which infected animals are grazing or have recently grazed. But the present situation, in which the countryside IS closed, whatever the government may say, is unacceptable. The effect on the 'tourism industry' has been much discussed - but it is time we also considered the infringement of the liberty of the millions of people for whom walking in the countryside is an important form of exercise and relaxation.
If this virus can be spread on our clothes and shoes - as many governments in other parts of the world are stating - then why the hell is Tony Blair telling everyone it's safe to return to the countryside? Has he lost his marbles or is the Government just totally inept? One is lost for words; incompetence seems to abound in the extreme with this government!
Mr Blair has told us "to get back to the countryside". It was his ministers who prevented us in the first place, and now they are sitting on the fence - many words no action. Where we live in Cambridgeshire, a mainly arable area, the footpaths remain closed - even a small public highway. We are told there are plenty of things to do, but not what. If we want to walk the streets and go shopping, we can do this just as well at home.
My wife and I normally take an early break on the continent but this year we went to Devon. The advice given by Tourist Information (if we could find them open) was poor. For example no clear information was available on what we could do and where we could go. Also we were not made to feel welcome by the Devon people. If they are to get us to ever consider going again, they will have to smarten up their act. Contrast this with Wales, where we have now booked a short break in May and everyone - despite Anne Robinson's comments - has been superb.
Nikki, Renfrewshire, Scotland
Of course it's not. We seem to be forgetting that, despite what the media says, FMD is not that serious. 5% of animals that contract it die, and the rest fall ill for a week or so with mild symptoms and a loss of appetite. The quality of the meat is not affected, which makes this whole crisis one which stems from our own economic interests. If the government allowed the disease to run its course, or even introduced vaccinations, then we could all go back into the countryside. We are being prevented from doing so for unjustifiable reasons, and it makes me sick!
I think the return to the countryside will increase the risk of further spread. As a rural business with a small livestock farm in Lincolnshire, I would be happier to lose customers rather than introduce the disease into an unaffected area. The movement of people from infected areas is needless and highly reckless. This disease is not under control despite the government's claims and if people return to areas as yet unaffected the disease will follow. Do we want to lose every animal in Britain, which would have a greater effect on the rural community than loss of trade for a season?
It is typical of this government to be only concerned with the way things look from the outside and not to concentrate on the job. In 1967 the number of cases was decreasing, the Labour government reopened the countryside, and lo and behold, the number of cases increased again!
I am due to go on holiday in the next three weeks to a holiday resort in Somerset. No one has made it clear if the resort is going to be opened. Will all country towns with a high attraction in the summer be closed or are they just taking precautions?
Has there yet been one case out of 700 confirmed caused by a walker? We will all happily abide by the recently issued Country Code on the foot and mouth subject, provided the landowners also open paths, where it is reasonable and low risk to do so, in accordance with this code. Otherwise I think the basic right to roam on what are after all PUBLIC footpaths has been compromised. Am I alone amongst Britain's walkers in feeling a strong sense of lost freedom?
I live in the countryside (Hants/Wilts border). No footpaths are open, no open spaces accessible to the public. Tony Blair seems to believe that the countryside is some vast rural theme park put there for the benefit of an urban elite to relax after a hard week running the country or whatever. The countryside is a working environment, on which large numbers of people rely. This is not only for employment but also for the food we eat. Countryside tourism is of a lot less value than people think. "Attractions" are few and far between, other than the pleasure of walking and relaxing in serene, beautiful surroundings. My advice to townies is stay away until it is safe, unless you want British farm produce (and associated quality and low price) to disappear forever.
If I walk on a footpath past a field with cows in it, and they have FMD as yet undiscovered, and I later go past some other animals not infected, does anyone know what the probability of infecting them is? Without this crucial information, how are we supposed to make a judgement?
Andrew L, UK
My sympathy to all those affected by this dreadful situation, but I'm a little perturbed by the messages coming from overseas about cancelled holidays to Britain in the light of foot and mouth. Most tourists who come here visit the major attractions - Warwickshire, London, Edinburgh and other cities. These are not affected by the current outbreak and travelling on major routes is not a problem. It's only a big problem if you intend to take real time out to enjoy some of the fantastic scenery like the Lakes. I've just come back from the Battlefields of Flanders - okay, some of the sights were closed but on the whole there's always a way around the problem. (If only it was this simple for the farmers.)
I trust that if Tony Blair is cynical enough to hold an entirely inappropriate general election at present, he will be equally thick-skinned enough to forego his annual break in Tuscany and go road walking in Devon or Cumbria. He should get a good reception. Perhaps some of his European friends would like to join him.
Lisa Harris, USA
It is difficult to understand why the government is to blame for everything. They did not start this outbreak and no one else would have handled it any better. Is it not time for the Conservatives to stop jumping on every miserable bandwagon that come along to try and gain advantage. The government took advice from the experts who said we should stay out of the countryside. That was wrong according to Mr Hague but what would he have said if it were shown that continued use of the countryside had spread this terrible disease. No government can win in this situation but it does not help when Conservatives try to make political capital out of the abject misery of the decent farmers they as supposed to support.
I agree with many comments regarding the reality of access to the countryside at present. The Pentland Hills are closed just now although there are no cases there. Friends report having to drive through clouds of foul-smelling smoke in the Borders as farmers burnt carcases close to the road and a carload of children were traumatised by the sight.
We should remember that farmers have ripped out hedgerows, despoiled the environment with chemicals and given us BSE. Many of them treat animals cruelly in the way they farm intensively and transport livestock over long distances for slaughter. These 'custodians of the countryside' are not likely to be terribly welcoming at the moment and I do agree there is not much point to going there to walk on a few permitted tarmac roads and go to the pub. Let us hope the present crisis will bring about a complete rethink about the way we produce food in this country. I speak as the relative of someone who is dying of CJD.
Yes it's too early. Until things are under control and the direction and strategy reaffirmed and made clear, due care and attention must prevail. There is always an element of 'what I do is my business or I don't care I'm a veggie or it's my right'. Thus, there will always be some rogue traders / farmers moving livestock and visitors to the countryside ignoring warnings and entering areas they should not. It is not possible to assume everyone will obey guidelines and common sense. So, in a case such as FMD, we must all suffer in order to help limit or prevent those ignorant few from abusing the guidelines and creating even more of a disaster than we already have. Let's get the situation under control, get the election over with and focus on the lengthy task ahead of getting our farming, import controls and disease controls back in order and put things in place to limit a repeat of FMD and eradicate BSE.
Andrew Torrance, Wales, UK
I am leading a large group to the Highlands in June
for a walking holiday, but we may now delay our trip,
if not cancel it all together. My thoughts and prayers go out to all
the people of the UK, especially those that make their
living in the rural areas. I hope that this dreadful
situation can be curtailed soon, for the economic
welfare of all of the UK. We badly want to visit
Scotland, but Mr. Blair does seem to be trying to candy coat the
problem in an effort to cover-up the obviously horrible
situation that is happening to the rural communities in the UK.
Whilst I appreciate that tourism in the countryside is being devastated by the current outbreak, I find it naive of the Government to expect visitors to return in significant numbers. The whole point of taking a break in the country is to leave the towns behind & access nature. Walking on tarmac is scarcely the same.
David Partridge, England
I find it very disturbing that there are mixed messages coming out of the Government. How can Tony Blair tell people it is alright to go to the countryside when the countryside is all closed up? What does he think people go to the country for? He seems to be trying to placate everyone with very deadly consequences.
I find it extremely
unacceptable that the British Government is responding on impulse to
economic pressure. First, responding to the cry of the European community
and now the cry of the tourist industry. From our perspective overseas,
they are completely and utterly contradicting themselves. Most people over
here are so confused, they think this is mad cow disease! Having been a
self-proclaimed anglophile, I am very disturbed at the irresponsible
handling of this epidemic.
I virtually live in the country - its at the bottom of my street but I cannot go into it at the moment. I cannot walk my dog three miles and give the local National Trust tea room my service. How are we supposed to help the rural tourist industry?
Why would anyone go to the Lake District and not walk round the lakes? Why would anyone go to Snowdonia and not climb Snowdon?
I think Mr Blair should read some of the comments in these forums - he'd have much more of a clue about what is really happening then.
If I was Caron, then I definitely would NOT come to Cornwall. I live here and it is absolutely impossible to go anywhere. The County Council has closed access to the majority of the beaches and has even closed tarmac paths that are wholly within villages (eg Sennen).
The countryside is only "open" to the extent that country towns with their facilities like hotels and cafes are open. Tarmac roads, some NT properties and some Forestry Commission paths and tracks are open. But when I review my fairly vast collection of hill-walking maps and guides, there is a very low percentage of walks open since most cross farmland.
Although there are no cases of foot-and-mouth in Perthshire, I can imagine that it
would not be very respectful or
enjoyable tramping around near someone
else's personal and family tragedy with
livestock lying dead or burning in the fields.
I just wish Tony Blair would be more
honest and admit this, without one eye
all the time on a possible general election.
Nonetheless there can be some access
to country with the accent on
I think it is too early to allow people back in to countryside. The Government seem to think that a bit of disinfectant will stop the flow of the disease, it won't. I know businesses are affected, and once again it comes down to individual greed. Businesses are failing, but if they don't get rid of foot-and-mouth completely first, then in the long run businesses will fail anyway.
The idea of re-opening places like the New Forest is wrong. I know Hampshire has been free all along but that does not mean it will remain so.
I live in an area of the UK currently unaffected by foot-and-mouth disease, however my life as a rural inhabitant is severely curtailed. I have my own horse and three dogs and none of these can be exercised as they would have been prior to the outbreak. The countryside is NOT open for business and as a rural inhabitant this is a small price to pay to support our farming industry. Tourism will recover relatively quickly once this crises is over, some farmers who have lost their entire breeding herds and flocks may take years to get back what has gone, if they ever do. You can't just go down to the local supermarket and buy prized breeding cattle, sheep and pigs they can take a lifetime to come by.
I live in the middle of a large town which is also right on the edge of an infected area. The local parks on the outskirts of town are shut, as are the footpaths.
I wouldn't mind so much if we weren't persisting with a medieval policy to eradicating a disease which can be spread up to 100km in the air! Stopping a few terriers having their daily walk will not make any difference to a virus that is largely spread by direct contact and airborne contagion.
A reply to Jeff Scholey, UK.
So - who puts the food on your table?
Give farmers the respect they deserve. They keep the countryside that we all so admire that helps tourism flourish.
The mass slaughter of innocent animals, unaffected by foot-and-mouth is a disgrace. Had vaccination been allowed this foot-and-mouth would have been over weeks ago.
Most people go to the countryside for a walk, to get off the road, for fresh air, to get away from towns and cities. The idea of going to the countryside and walking on roads, visiting indoor attractions, towns and villages isn't the same. I've been into the countryside and there's nothing there for me. I'd love to be able to stay at home and enjoy the countryside for my holidays, but it's too late for that. My flights out of the country for Easter, and even into the summer, are already booked. Stop the slaughter, vaccinate what's left, and let us back into the countryside ASAP.
I find it unbelievable that Tony Blair is telling us to go back into the countryside when there's a chance that if everyone did that then the disease would get even worse and spread to areas which haven't got foot-and-mouth. I also find it incredible that Labour has wasted taxpayers' money paying for adverts on the radio telling me about this crazy idea of Tony. Surely the money would be better spent trying to bring this situation to an end?
The truth of the matter is that nobody can be certain whether opening up the countryside will make the foot-and-mouth outbreak worse or not. The present measures to control the infection are clearly not working. Perhaps more time is needed but what is the point of the exercise if we end up losing half or more of our livestock. The cure does indeed seem worse than the disease itself. There seems little point in jeopardising the successful tourist industry to try to save what is a declining and perhaps doomed farming industry.
Open up the countryside and vaccinate the remainder of the national herd. We may be able to afford to lose farming but we certainly cannot risk our tourist industry.
Blair should face up to the fact that his farming industry is destroyed and his tourism industry is severely damaged for the next six months. Instead of fretting about how he is going to get himself re-elected he should acknowledge this publicly. He should immediately draw up a plan for rebuilding the farming industry and develop taxation legislation to mitigate losses to small businesses dependent on tourism. The contrast between Blair's dithering and Churchill's magnificent leadership in WWII is staggering and distressing.
Further to the comment from K. Saddler, I would endorse this, and further say define "open"?
As an observation. In virtually all areas of the West of England, all footpaths and bridle-ways have been announced as CLOSED by the County councils, and the Police have the power to impose a hefty fine if you try and walk the paths and go on the bridle-ways etc.
There are more Police patrols, and people are observing the ruling.
Of course it's too early. There are new cases being announces with every day that passes and yet we are being urged to spend more time at the heart of the problem. So many mixed messages are being sent out. I appreciate that this is a hard time for the tourist industry in the country but surely it is more constructive to avoid making this crisis any worse.
Here in Norfolk we are perhaps further from a foot-and-mouth outbreak than anywhere else in England.
However the Norfolk County Council have posted notices closing Public Rights of Way over agricultural and forestry land, and emphatically demand that we "should NOT go into the countryside at this time".
Beaches, golf courses, bird reserves etc are closed, and hotels usually now at full capacity are on 3-4 day weeks.
The countryside ISN'T open, and the Government should face up to this and provide realistic and honest guidance and help.
My wife and I love the countryside, walk in it whenever we can, and are especially passionate about the Lakes.
However, we can think of 3 reasons not to go back to the countryside at present:
Tony seems to be forgetting just how small and crowded this island is. Go to the country and stay away from farmland? Not an easy thing to do and it shows how little the government understands this situation. Tourism might be a bigger industry than farming but go tell that to the farmers, Tony!
However if Mr Blair's idea of a trip to the country is a drive to a market town to visit a teashop or a country pub, then this is OK. Perhaps the Prime Minister could be more precise in his advice. He could set an example to MAFF who are still sending out blatantly contradictory advice.
K Sadler, UK
First the Government tells everyone to stay away from the countryside. Now they're telling us its "open for business"! No wonder there is confusion with all this conflicting advice!
Eugenio Salvador Joaka, UK/MEX
I tried visiting the Highlands last weekend only to find the countryside closed - and this area is designated foot and mouth free.
I don't blame farmers at all for protecting their livelihood but I do resent the government trying to con us into visiting the countryside when we can't enjoy it. It will be counterproductive both for the tourist industry and the government.
Blair and his advisors seem to be even further out of touch now than they were during the Fuel Crisis. The countryside is NOT open for business, Mr. Blair, nor should it be until this epidemic is ended.
Yes, it is too early. The risk of spreading the infection to areas still relatively free of the disease is too great.
The plea to go back has far more to do with politics and trying to restore a sense of normality so that an election can be called than with the medical need to eradicate foot and mouth.
John Adlington, UK
This Easter I'm visiting my parents in Cornwall. They have already warned me that coastal walks are closed, so are many of the historic houses. We will still be going, however it looks as though we will be confined to the beaches - lets hope for good weather.
Anne B, UK
I think it's perfectly feasible to advise to go back to the countryside in an effort to curtail the devastating impact on tourism in particular. However the government has conveniently forgotten that the time delay between culling and disposal is such that this advice can only be irresponsible and prove more devastating to farmers as FMD widens its boundaries.
Jeff Scholey, UK
The government seemed to suggest at the beginning of this fiasco that winds could carry the virus 40 miles over land. Then they decided to burn carcasses, releasing the virus high into the air for the wind to blow around. In the face of that a few ramblers probably won't make much difference. If the government spent less time spinning and worrying about appearances and more time fixing the problems, this debate wouldn't be relevant.
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