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Saturday, 5 May, 2001, 15:41 GMT 16:41 UK
Ramblers demand more open paths
Pen Y Pass, Snowdon
Farmers fear it is too early to re-open Mt Snowdon
The gradual re-opening of footpaths in the wake of the foot-and-mouth outbreak is attracting criticism from both walkers and farmers.

Ramblers say there is "no excuse" for local authorities not to open paths more quickly, particularly in areas free of the disease.

But some farmers argue that paths should remain closed until foot-and-mouth has been entirely eradicated.

I'm sitting in the Chiltern Hills and there are no animals around but there is a closed sign on every path

Kate Ashbrook
Ramblers' Association
The dispute comes at the start of the May Bank Holiday as the beleaguered tourist industry fights to attract visitors back to long-deserted attractions.

About one in five footpaths are now thought to be open including nearly half of all coastal walkways.

But the Ramblers' Association believes more could be done.

Their chairman Kate Ashbrook said: "There is no excuse, particularly outside infected areas, for county councils not opening these footpaths.

"The government has given clear guidance but the councils are not putting in the resources and getting things moving."

Farmers 'should not have veto'

She said farmers were being given too much say over whether paths should open.

"They certainly shouldn't be giving farmers a veto where there is no risk," said Ms Ashbrook.

In particular, more could be done in Lincolnshire, North Yorkshire, Buckinghamshire, Shropshire, East Sussex, Staffordshire, Lancashire and Durham, she said.

Wild ponies in the Brecon Beacons
Ramblers must stay on roads in the Brecon Beacons
She said: "I'm sitting in the Chiltern Hills and there are no animals around but there is a closed sign on every path.

"There are no walkers, the pub is losing business and the riding school can't operate."

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown, appearing to back this view, has urged councils to think "very hard" about opening paths particularly in counties where there has not been a single case of the disease.

But Peter Chalk, leader of Wiltshire County Council, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The government is desperate to say we are back to normal and I am not prepared to take risks with the farmers livelihood in Wiltshire."

In Wales hill farmer Dafydd Morris is concerned by a decision to open four paths on Mount Snowdon.

"We would rather people stayed away altogether until foot-and-mouth is totally eradicated," he said.

The Ministry of Agriculture has said local decisions were being reached through consensus and were based on an assessment of the "real risk".

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