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The BBC's Richard Wells
"Despair was always apparent"
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Monday, 25 June, 2001, 17:02 GMT 18:02 UK
'A sad day' for Margaret Beckett
Margaret Beckett
Mrs Beckett donned protective gear for her visit
By BBC North of England correspondent Richard Wells

Last month, Nick Brown came to the Yorkshire Dales following a rash of foot-and-mouth outbreaks.

It was during the election campaign, and he suffered at the hands of many farmers, angry at the sudden and unexpected loss of their stock.

Five weeks later it was a different secretary of state, in the renamed Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who went to the same area.

Margaret Beckett has a different approach, a different style, but the problems remained the same.

Noisy demo

Mrs Beckett was met by a noisy but good natured demonstration by people calling for vaccinations of sheep and cattle.

She was presented with a watercolour by a Dales artist showing a herd of Moorland sheep walking along a quiet country lane - but this sketch had a sting in the tail.

The artist pointed in the picture to two cottages which were let out to tourists as her main business.

She said that tourists didn't want them any more, and the herd of sheep she had so painstakingly painted had become victims of the latest slaughter.

Mrs Beckett promised to do what she could, as this was a listening mission by the new secretary of state.

Virulent disease

She knows that she has few answers in trying to eradicate this virulent disease which has now claimed more than 280 farms in the Dales and Ribble Valley area in the course of the last 6 weeks.

She was given a stark warning by a farmer's leader she met during her daylong visit.

Starvation threat

The regional director of the National Farmers' Union, Richard Ellison, said that with the movement of animals which have so far escaped the disease at a standstill - because of precautions - and with grazing limited, by the autumn; further mass culls of sheep and cattle may be necessary on humanitarian grounds to avoid the possibility of farmyard animals dying of starvation this winter.

Mrs Beckett saw little sign of anger among farmers today.

But it was a desperately sad day, as she met farmers who have still to get over the shock of losing sheep and cattle which have been their life's work.

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