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Wednesday, 29 August, 2001, 17:43 GMT 18:43 UK
Valley hit hard by disease outbreak
Farmers are wondering where disease will strike next
By the BBC's Richard Wells in the Allendale Valley

First to arrive in vans and pickups were the men with guns.

Then, a short time later, came the convoy of covered wagons, into which grotesque lifeless forms were piled, before taken away for rendering.

All of it was done to a familiar routine by those employed to deal with foot-and-mouth.

But this is Allendale, where the virus had steadfastly refused to spread its havoc until now.

slaughterman kills a cow on Northumbria farm
More than 3.7 million animals have been slaughtered so far
Farms in many other parts of Northumberland, in neighbouring Cumbria and Co Durham had suffered in the spring and early summer.

Those in Allendale, a beautiful green valley fringed by purple heathered-moorland, seemed somehow immune.

Then a single case in sheep and cattle was spotted last week.

Since then it has spread to 12 other farms.

Fear

Now the entire dale, with its 550 farms and a quarter of a million sheep, is gripped by a fear - whose turn will it be next?

Allendale had escaped the disease until last week
No one knows how it got here. Some locals say walkers brought it in on reopened footpaths, others point the finger at shooting parties, paying to bag the large numbers of grouse on the high tops.

The experts - scientists, vets, and epidemiologists - say almost certainly that is not the case.

It is much more likely to have been caused by an accidental breach of disinfectant measures on a farm, or by infected sheep wandering over moorland on the dale, but it won't stop the rumours.

Toll on tourism

All this on a day when the government agency, the Countryside Commission, warns of a bleak future for much of rural England and Wales in the wake of this devastating disease.

Tourists have abandoned the countryside in their hundreds of thousands.

Disinfectant is sprayed on cars leaving the Allendale valley
Visitors have stayed away from the valley

Allendale had suffered even before this outbreak.

Walkers, sightseers, enjoyers of quiet hotels, pubs and bed and breakfasts have stayed away.

In a local shop the owner says she can't see a future beyond Christmas.

The manager of a four star hotel says he has lost more than 150 worth of bookings since news of the outbreak first broke a week ago.

Outlook bleak

Richard Spence, of the Northumbria Tourist Board, says it's not about statistics but people.

People who launder the bed linen and supply the local shops, those who do the countless jobs that make tourism tick. They face a torrid time.

They face unemployment, few job prospects and a decline of the services on which they rely in order to live.

Not just now, or perhaps next month, but unless there's a programme for change in the fortunes of rural England, for the next three years at least.



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