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Monday, 1 October, 2001, 05:48 GMT 06:48 UK
North York Moors reopen
Walkers on North York Moors
Walkers are being encouraged to return to the moors
Large parts of the North York Moors are being reopened to walkers on Monday after the area's sheep were declared free of foot-and-mouth.

Blood tests have confirmed the disease has gone from most of the national park.

About 80% of footpaths are being reopened.

Officials are keen to have widespread access in place in time for half term at the end of October.

Sheep at a farm in Penrith
Most sheep have been declared disease-free
Restrictions are still in place in three areas of the national park.

Walkers were absent from the moors between February and mid-September when limited guided walks were introduced.

The loss of tourism has hit the local economy hard.

"The impact has been massive," said spokesman Mike Pratt.

"Some businesses have gone out of business and many are struggling and are trying to hold on until next year.

"We are trying to get some trade back by half term and are trying to set things up for next year and revive the local economy."

Strict controls

Officials are removing the footpaths closure signs and putting up new signs welcoming walkers.

The work is expected to take several days.

There will be no restrictions on ramblers in the disease-free areas.

But strict controls are in place in the three areas still to be declared disease-free.

They are in the Esk Valley, in the area north of Whitby and near Thirsk.

The National Park Authority, with the North Yorkshire County Council, landowners and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) have been working to allow visitors back in time for half term.

Andy Wilson, national park officer said: "At last we can be cautiously optimistic and lift most access restrictions from 1 October.

"We welcome this and intend to provide publicity and clear information to encourage people back to visit and enjoy the national park."

Widespread access

Ramblers were allowed into parts of the moor from 19 September on guided walks, provided they followed strict disinfectant procedures.

With many paths now overgrown through lack of use, the national park is keen for people to continue joining organised walks.

Peter Barfoot, head of advisory services said: "We will continue to promote access through our special moorland walks even after 1 October.

"As paths are re-signed and overgrown vegetation is cut back we will publicise them.

"If it all goes according to our plan, widespread access will be available for everyone to enjoy in time for the October half term."

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