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Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 21:27 GMT
Farm disease 'blighted county for visitors'
Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian's Wall lost many visitors due to foot-and-mouth
Visitors to Northumberland last year may never return because of the blight caused by the foot-and-mouth epidemic, a public inquiry into the outbreak has heard.

The third day of the five-day investigation at the county council in Morpeth has been hearing from ramblers and other countryside users about the impact of the disease.

Robin Birley, the director of the Vindolanda Roman Fort, near Hadrian's Wall, said visitor numbers were down by 41% last summer. He said the government authorities should have been better organised to cope with the crisis.

Northumberland's countryside manager, Clive Crossley, said all footpaths were closed at the start of the outbreak but that attempts to reopen some were resisted by farmers and land-owners worried about the spread of the disease.

Robin Birley

Quite honestly, those visitors who came to that part of Northumberland this year will have had a very unpleasant experience

Even now, he said, only 96% of the county is open to the public.

John Fawcett, of the Open Spaces Society for Alnwick, Morpeth and Berwick, said as late as last month he collected a rucksack full of closure notices that should have been taken down.

Robin Birley said Hadrian's Wall and nearby attractions had faced a number of problems.

Foot-and-mouth signs
Ramblers say paths could have opened sooner
He said: "The thing that particularly upset us - and I still don't understand if it was legal or not - was the sudden blanking out of sign posts with black plastic bags, some of which are still there.

"It made the whole area look absolutely appalling - a total mess."

"The county council appeared to give up on its grass cutting.

"In many areas the grass was higher than the adjacent field walls.

"Quite honestly, those visitors who came to that part of Northumberland in this particular year will have had a very unpleasant experience.

"I very much doubt if they'll ever come back."

But Stoker Frater, this year's National Farmers' Union chairman in Northumberland, said he believed the public should be able to exercise common sense and that the farmers suffered more than anyone.



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15 Jan 02 | UK Politics
14 Jan 02 | England
11 Jan 02 | UK Politics
28 Dec 01 | Review of 2001
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