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Saturday, 28 April, 2001, 00:26 GMT 01:26 UK
Cumbria 'a green desert'
Cumbrian countryside
The country-lanes are free of people
Terry Kirton, editor of the local newspaper the West Cumberland Times & Star, tells how the foot-and-mouth crisis is having an impact on the everyday lives of people in his community.

The suspected case of human foot-and-mouth in a contract worker involved in the disposal of carcasses turned out to be a false alarm.

But what about the half a million in Cumbria - people that is, not sheep? How is this plague affecting their daily life?

They face the obvious frustration of being surrounded by the glorious snow-capped Lakeland fells while not being able to walk on them.

On the other hand the daffodil-lined country lanes are peacefully free from tourists, and we have been able to keep the scenery to ourselves for a few more months.

Terry Kirton
Terry Kirton: Cumbria is holding its breath

Tell that to a shopkeeper in Keswick, or a guest house owner in Cockermouth, however, and you will quickly be reminded of how important the tourist industry is to this part of the world.

There are reminders of that every day.

The local brewery is suffering because visitor numbers are down and pints are not being drunk at quite the expected rate, although locals can be counted on to do their best to support that particular industry as wholeheartedly as possible.

The local tourist board tries hard to ensure its message of "Cumbria is open for business" is heard.

Shouting equally loud are many farmers who are still urging Cumbrians to stay at home and tourists to keep to the towns.

And there are plenty of tourist attractions in such gem-towns as Cockermouth, Wordsworth's birthplace, and Maryport, with its quaint harbour and intriguing links with the ill-fated Titanic.

It is a green desert. There is hardly an animal to be seen

Terry Kirton

Visitors, like the rest of us, will be immediately struck by the change to the farmland.

It is a green desert. There is hardly an animal to be seen.

Tens of thousands of sheep have already been culled and farmers are keeping their cattle indoors and away from the virulent virus which still stalks the farmyards.

Dead sheep
Tens of thousands of sheep have been culled

How much longer they can continue such an expensive farming practice raises a major issue.

Maff has warned that a second wave of infection could strike when farmers are forced, by mounting expense and possibly a false sense of complacency, to turn their cattle out to pasture.

Cumbria is holding its breath. Not just in dread of further outbreaks, but because the smell from burial sites, and until quite recently the pyres, was overpowering.

Add to that the sharp caustic bite of disinfectant which wafts up from every farm gateway, and the quality of the normally pure Cumbrian air is seen to have plummeted.

Chemical cocktail

How much of the ghastly cocktail of chemicals, toxins and dioxins have found their way into the local rivers, such as the Derwent, the Cocker and the Ellen, is as yet undocumented.

Ask the anglers and they tell you it will take years for the waterways to recover.

To the casual onlooker the rivers certainly look murky.

While there is little local resentment over closed footpaths and cancelled local shows and carnivals, there is a growing anger over what are seen as heavy-handed decisions by Maff.

No consultation

There was no consultation before decisions were taken to pour leachate from animal slaughter sites out into the Solway, or to open up household refuse tips to make way for thousands of carcasses.

In two instances, local residents took legal action to prevent the men from the ministry lighting gigantic bonfires near to their homes.

Overall, the famously phlegmatic West Cumbrians are taking the whole business in their stride.

That includes the followers of two particularly popular Cumbrian sports - fell running and hound trailing.

Every evening the wiry fell athletes can be seen splashing through the shallow water on the flat sands of The Solway, desperately trying to keep fit while the mountain scree is closed to them.

Scattered among the small groups of runners are the owners of trail hounds, every sinew packed with energy, who would normally at this time of year be chasing an aniseed trail across six or 10 mountain miles.

For both sports, the season is over before it has begun.

For the farmers and the tourist industry there is nothing so certain.






See also:

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