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Friday, 1 March, 2002, 07:59 GMT
Cumbria gets back on its feet
Deserted farms and countryside in Cumbria
Animal and tourist movements came to a stop
Farmers in Cumbria are returning to normal a year after their first case of foot-and-mouth disease was discovered. BBC News Online's Bill Wilson looks at the county 12 months after the outbreak.

Cumbria was not the first county to experience the pain of foot-and-mouth, nor even the second, but the North West region was to bear the brunt of the disease which brought havoc to England's farms.

On 1 March 2001, officials from government agriculture ministry Maff (now Defra), confirmed cases at Longtown, near Carlisle, and Penrith.

By the end of the outbreak a total of 893 county premises were infected and 3,500 farms either lost all or some of their stock.

In the county 1.1m sheep, 215,000 cattle, 45,000 pigs, and 1,500 other animals were killed.

The period was one of financial worry and emotional stress, with favourite flocks and herds slaughtered, and cash flows disrupted.

We are wide open to a new, imported, animal or plant disease

Gill Shearer, Cumbria NFU

Many farmers had all their animals destroyed ("culled-out") or, if their stocks survived, were faced with stringent restrictions on livestock movments.

Now, a year later, those left without any animals are in the process of restocking.

Those who retained some sheep or cattle are trying to get their agricultural lives back to some sort of normality.

Gill Shearer, National Farmers' Union (NFU) spokesman for Cumbria, told BBC News Online: "An integral part of the county community was hit very hard.

"They are now trying to pull things together although it will be another 12 months, at least, before their finances are back in order.

"This is a very emotional time of year for farmers who were "culled-out" .

Blood tests

"And it will continue to be a very emotional six to eight months for them, as they all remember their own personal anniversaries of losing animals.

"They have all said they would rather have had the animals back than the compensation money they were given."

Animals burn in funeral pyre
Footpaths were closed to tourists

Beasts known as "sentinel" animals are being taken back onto farms - these test animals will have their progress monitored and blood tested by officals from Defra over the next four weeks.

At the height of the outbreak Defra served Form D notices, which meant animals could not be moved without permission from Defra.

Many farmers saw other costs soar, as animals that would have been sold had to be fed.

Farms were forced to keep these animals on their premises throughout the winter, with many extra mouths to feed.

Many Cumbrian farmers sell "store" animals which do not go straight to slaughter.

These animals, and breeding beasts, are usually sold in spring and autumn.

But movement restrictions saw them using up precious feed, while at the same time farmers were unable to earn cash by selling them.

Ken Armer, who has a farm at Scar Sykes, Newbiggin on Lune, Kirby Stephen, Cumbria, said: "We were under strict restrictions, and had to wait until September to sell 250 lambs that should have gone in July.

"We were glad to see them go, as they were using feed that was needed by other animals.

"And we had 50 store cattle that should have gone in March 2001, but we couldn't sell them until 17 December, when movement restrictions were finally lifted.

"They also had to be fed, and it meant we had a terribly hard year financially.

Lower price

"We had to live off the money we got from the government for another 250 of our sheep which were culled early last year."

Other costs were incurred as farmers were forced to disinfect vehicles every time they moved them from one of their fields, along a public road, to another.

Dead sheep following culls in Cumbria
More than 1m sheep were slaughtered

Some spent as much as 20,000 on this cost alone.

Mrs Shearer said: "On top of that the movement restrictions meant there were delays in getting rams to ewes, making lambing later, and putting back the whole annual farming cycle.

"Any chance of keeping a steady supply of lambs to market has gone, meaning there could be a glut of animals and lower price for farmers."

But it is not a totally gloomy situation. Dairy farmers have seen circumstances return to those prior to February 2001.

Breeding and store cattle are also being sold on re-opened livestock auction markets.

And animals for slaughter are being sold again, although not yet at auction markets.

The picture in the tourism industry reveals a similar state of affairs, with efforts being made this year to compensate for the traumas of 2001.

It is estimated 230m income was lost, one third of the money garnered annually from tourism.

We had a terribly hard year financially

Ken Armer, Cumbrian farmer

Seven thousand of the 47,000 jobs in the tourism sector were also lost.

However, holiday bookings for 2002 are going well, and the region is hoping for a return to the numbers of visitors they were getting before foot-and-mouth.

Allan King, spokesman for the Cumbria Tourist Board, said: "There is a tremendous loyalty to the region from visitors.

"They came as soon as they could last autumn when footpaths were open, and tourist restrictions lifted, and they are ready to come back this year. We are very optimistic."

Andy Harris, of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, said: "There is a muted optimism in the business community.

"But it may take two or three years before things are back to what they were. Foot-and-mouth had a devastating effect on the businesses.

"As well as tourism, the agricultural supply industry was also badly affected - things like animal feed and pharmacuetical companies.

"Tradesmen employed by the tourist industry were also hit, with many of them seeing a drop in work.

"We are fortunate now that it has been some time since the last case of foot-and-mouth in the county, and that we have a new tourist season approaching."

'Wide open'

That tentative recovery, in the agriculture, business and tourism sectors, would suffer a severe blow if there was another outbreak of the disease.

For that reason, the NFU wants to see continued vigilance over imports of illegal imported meat.

Mrs Shearer said: "There is a feeling that the government has done very little to stop these shipments. I am talking about meat imports from places like Argentina, and parts of South Africa and Asia.

"We are wide open to a new, imported, animal or plant disease.

"We have huge concerns, and feel safeguards could be improved at ports by having a single agency dealing with the matter instead of three at the moment.

"Farmers in Cumbria could not take a second outbreak of foot-and-mouth."

See also:

27 Feb 02 | England
Pollution fears of animal pyres
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