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Friday, 9 November, 2001, 08:29 GMT
Foot-and-mouth restrictions eased
Farmer and sheep next to Taylor Burn Farm in Northumberland
About 8,500 farms have been released
Movement restrictions imposed during the foot-and-mouth epidemic have been lifted on about 8,500 farms in the north of England.

The move, effective from midnight on Thursday, is the largest-ever single lift of an infected area.

It means sheep and cattle can now be moved more easily between many farms in North Yorkshire, Northumberland, Lancashire and Cumbria.

Cases by county
Lancashire: 53
Northumberland: 87
County Durham: 93
N Yorkshire: 135
Cumbria: 893
UK total: 2,030
This will come as a particular relief to farmers in upland areas, where there had been fears animals could starve as pasture grew bare.

It also means that restrictions have now been ended on 95.3% of all the farms on which they were imposed since the outbreak began in February.

And many roadside disinfection points will be removed.

Only four areas where the disease was particularly virulent, covering about 6,630 farms, remain under stiff controls - including two parts of Cumbria and small zones around Hexham, in Northumberland, and Skipton, North Yorkshire.

Controversy rages

The last confirmed case of foot-and-mouth came more than five weeks ago on 30 September - at Whygill Head Farm at Appleby in Cumbria.

But controversy about the way the disease was handled rages on.

No Admittance sign at a farm in Preswick, near Ponteland, Northumberland
A government advisor said restrictions should have been put in place earlier
On Thursday rural businesses in England and Wales said they wanted 5.1bn compensation from the government for losses suffered during the epidemic.

They are arguing that the government illegally closed roads; issued wrong information on what areas of the countryside were closed; and denied rural residents the right to enjoy their property.

And on Wednesday a senior government advisor said the effects of the outbreak might not have been so serious if the movement of livestock had been banned more quickly.

Professor Mark Woolhouse said a delay of just a few days in bringing in the restrictions may have made the crisis twice as bad as it could have been.

Vigilance urged

The counties released on Thursday have been badly affected by the epidemic. With 893 cases, Cumbria has been the worst-hit county in the UK, which has seen 2,030 cases altogether.

Rural affairs minister Lord Whitty said: "This is an important step forward, and reflects a considerable achievement by teams on the ground carrying out the programme of blood testing.

"I would emphasise that now, as always, vigilance and strict biosecurity are essential.

"We cannot afford to relax our guard, and it is the responsibility of everyone - farmers, Defra officers, and the wider community - to maintain standards and ensure that this disease is eradicated."

See also:

08 Nov 01 | England
Disease victims seek billions
06 Nov 01 | Scotland
Scottish lamb exports to resume
03 Nov 01 | UK
Fox hunters seek end to ban
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