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The BBC's Richard Bilton
"The Easter holiday is a crucial period for the tourist industry"
 real 56k

The BBC's Jane Hughes
reports from Carlisle
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Monday, 9 April, 2001, 11:33 GMT 12:33 UK
Farm disease hits Easter bookings
Boats for hire on Ullswater in the Lake District
The normally busy Lake District has been hit hard
Almost two-thirds of people planning an Easter trip to rural areas have cancelled because of foot-and-mouth disease, according to a survey published on Monday.

NFU Countryside, which carried out the survey, says it shows how hard tourism is being hit by the crisis, which is now entering its eighth week.

And there are fears that the disease is spreading further than previously expected, after outbreaks were confirmed in new areas of Scotland and Wales at the weekend.

Crisis in the UK
Cases on Sunday: 28
Total confirmed cases: 1,134
440,000 animals due for slaughter
764,000 animals have been slaughtered
498,000 carcasses destroyed

But Agriculture Minister Nick Brown said the new outbreaks, which are currently being investigated, were "not unexpected".

"We were warned there would be sporadic outbreaks," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

He added that epidemiologists were expected to come up with "a clear trend" on how the disease was progressing by the end of the week.

Nick Brown
Nick Brown: Sporadic outbreaks expected
He also dismissed accusations that Maff had an "institutional and historical bias" against vaccination.

"The fact that we are pursuing a present strategy remorselessly doesn't mean we are not considering the alternatives.

"We have considered it very carefully but there are downsides to using a vaccination policy."

Cancellations

With school holidays already under way and Easter Monday only a week away, any let up in the disease would come too late for many guest-house owners and others who rely on income from tourism.

Some 66% of the 500 people questioned on the website of NFU Countryside - which is affiliated to the National Farmers' Union - indicated that they were planning on taking a countryside break over Easter.

But of those, 65% had cancelled their plans because of foot-and-mouth.

Sheep in Cumbria
The disease is still spreading
This is despite intensified efforts from the prime minister and other members of the government to convince the public rural Britain is "open for business".

David Hellard from NFU Countryside said: "The overall impact of foot-and-mouth on the rural tourist trade has been widely noted.

"But our findings really bring home just how hard the industry is going to be hit over what is traditionally an extremely busy holiday period."

Respondents to the survey voiced a demand for clear, practical information about what visitors can still do in the countryside and where, he added.

Scottish fears

The government remains adamant that the surest way to eradicate the disease is the mass slaughter of infected animals within 24 hours and livestock on neighbouring land within 48 hours.

Mr Brown has urged farmers not to delay the culls by appealing against the slaughter orders, except in "exceptional circumstances".

Meanwhile there is concern in Scotland that foot-and-mouth is spreading both east and west from the original cluster of outbreaks in Dumfries and Galloway.

A case confirmed near Sorbie on Sunday is the first to be identified in Wigtownshire and is more than 30 miles from the nearest outbreak area around Kircudbright.

Efforts are also continuing to establish how the virus spread to two properties near Jedburgh in the Scottish Borders.

Army personnel are due to arrive in the area on Monday to help with the cull of thousands of animals on farms adjoining the outbreaks.

There are also signs that foot-and-mouth is moving south in Wales, with the first outbreak the south Wales valleys.

Continuous pyre

The case is at a farm at Nelson, near Caerphilly, and is less than 20 miles from Cardiff.

Cases in Wales had been restricted to the island of Anglesey in the north, parts of mid Wales and along the borders.

But more cases have been discovered at Monmouthshire in south east Wales and on Saturday one was confirmed at Caerwent - just a few miles from Newport.

More resources are being channelled into dealing with the disposal of thousands of slaughtered animals across the UK.

Further burial pits are being dug and in Cumbria engineers are constructing a pyre which can burn continuously to help clear the backlog of carcasses.

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