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Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 15:18 GMT
The slow road to recovery
Northumberland farm during foot-and-mouth outbreak
Northumberland is finally clear of foot-and-mouth
The sun shining on Hexham market sums up an air of optimism in the Northumberland town not seen for the past 11 months.

It was the first meeting for local farmers since the county was declared free from foot-and-mouth disease and the talk turned from slaughter to plans for the future.

This is an industry which is determined to get back on its feet, says farmer Stoker Frater.


There's a real sense of relief that restrictions are being lifted

Stoker Frater
Farmer
"It will be a slow recovery - but we will recover," he says.

Mr Frater has a beef and sheep farm which stretches 1,800 acres from the hills in Alnwick to its lowlands.

That, along with a little arable land and some work for other farms, gave him the diversification he needed to ride out the crisis.

And although his stock remained clear of the disease, he was subject to tight restrictions imposed on the movement and sale of animals because Abberwick Farm is within four miles of a farm which did see a compulsory visit from the slaughter man.

'We must be vigilant'

Northumberland was where foot-and-mouth was first detected and ironically it was the last county where it has been stamped out.

Farmers there have spent the last three weeks in isolation from the rest of the country - unable to move animals or get on with normal life.

"It was creating a welfare problem because it's been very cold and we've been running out of food," says Mr Frater.

Keep Out sign
A foot-and-mouth Keep Out sign is crossed out

"There's a real sense of relief that restrictions are being lifted now and we can get on with looking after our animals."

But there also remain real fears of another outbreak.

"We must be vigilant," Mr Frater says.

"We have to get it through to the government that we cannot go on importing these diseases."

The answer, it seems to Mr Frater and many farmers like him, is that Britain stops importing meat and takes a stab at self-sufficiency.

An uphill struggle when consumer confidence in British meat is at an all-time low and the foreign imports are often cheaper.

Frustration and optimism

Mr Frater believes there should also be a public inquiry into the outbreak.

It is a debate he has had over the many months of isolation with his farmer neighbours who were the only customers in the local restaurant and pub after the tourists disappeared.

Through frustration with what they see as a lack of support from the government, there has often been the angry suggestion that the problem might just as well be ignored.

"After all, they say, look at 1967. Bugger all was done after that outbreak and we didn't have it again for 30 years," Mr Frater says grimly.

In the short term though, farmers like Mr Frater are trying simply to get back on their feet.

This spring's lamb crop has all but been lost and some who watched all their stock being slaughtered will never return, he says.

There are still restrictions to be obeyed, including a 20-day rule which allows for just one movement of livestock in and out of each farm every 20 days.

But despite it all, Mr Frater is in buoyant mood.

"I am lucky. I kept some income coming in over the past few months. I live in a lovely big house and do a job I love.

"And it is a beautiful spring day."


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Farm expert
The end of foot-and-mouth in UK?


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14 Jan 02 | UK Politics
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