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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 August 2007, 17:13 GMT 18:13 UK
Remembering the pyres
By Jon Kelly
BBC News in Devon

Ian Harris
Ian Harris said he felt sick when he saw the news
They may look serene. But the gentle west country hills that roll above Ian Harris's farm are forever associated in his mind with the grisliest spectacle he has ever witnessed.

It was on this high ground that the carcasses of his entire herd of sheep were burned after the foot-and-mouth outbreak of 2001 necessitated their slaughter.

That pyre was just one of many lighting up Devon and beyond as the virus brought chaos to Britain's farmers.

So when he switched on the evening bulletin on Friday to find that a fresh outbreak had occurred, 55-year-old Ian's stomach turned.

"When I saw the news, I felt sick as a pig," he admits.

"I remembered how everyone's lives were turned upside down, and now I'm just hoping that it doesn't spread."

Traumatic event

Ian can be forgiven for praying that history does not repeat itself. The 2001 outbreak was easily the married father-of-two's most traumatic event of his 27 years as a farmer.

But now, once again, emergency movement restrictions mean his 800 sheep and 150 cattle - all bred for their meat - are confined to his 300 acres of land around Sheepwash.

Trade has already suffered.

I knew that everything I had would have to go
Ian Harris

Five of his cattle were meant to have been taken away for slaughter the previous day, but still they stand in the field.

At this time of year, Ian should be looking for a new ram and some breeding ewes, he says. But he cannot go to market.

Still, the devastation is - he hopes - nowhere near as bad as 2001.

Shifting feet

Back then the neighbouring farm was the first in the area to be hit by foot-and-mouth, and the disease quickly spread to Ian's livestock.

He recalls the horrifying realisation that his animals were afflicted.

"I walked into the barn and saw the sheep all had their ears down," he remembers.

Pyre in Devon during the last foot-and-mouth outbreak
Pyres were a common sight during the 2001 outbreak

"They were licking their lips, and shifting from one foot to another because of the blisters on their hooves.

"Again, I felt sick. I knew that everything I had would have to go."

The sheep - as well as all his cattle - were shot dead by government slaughter teams within a week.

Although they were bred for slaughter, Ian could not bear to watch them be killed in this manner.

"It's too upsetting when you've reared them from little ones," he admits.

But worse was still to come.

'Vile smell'

The corpses of the cattle were driven away. But the sheep's carcasses were burned on the hills above him.

"It was bloody awful," he remembers.

"The smell was vile, absolutely vile."

The hardest part of the episode, however, was the aftermath.

Slaughter teams

Compensation meant he did not have to worry about cash. But with nothing to do, Ian's days were stripped of purpose.

He joined the slaughter teams, herding livestock to their executions.

Six years on, Ian may be anxious to ensure that the virus does not spread. But he has more confidence in the authorities than he did in 2001.

"Last time around they weren't quick enough," he says.

"It does seem that they've got their act together this time, though.

"I think we can survive a fortnight. Any longer might be a problem."

As he trudges off his land, Ian can only hope that the horizon does not ignite once more.

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