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Monday, 28 January, 2002, 13:47 GMT
Prince visit boosts Beacons morale
Prince of Wales at Cantref Riding Centre
Charles wished he could have fought the disease
The Prince of Wales braved the gales of mid Wales to lend an ear to a community ravaged by foot-and-mouth disease.

Charles waded through muddy fields to meet the owner of a Powys riding centre whose business was decimated by the outbreak.

And he met with members of the Brecon Beacons Trust set up to promote the area - among the crisis' worst hit - after a massive slump in the region's tourism industry.

Farmer carries cull lambs
Culls and restrictions brought misery to the Beacons
Later, he told a crowd the Beacons, which had 30,000 sheep slaughtered at the height of the disease, were officially "open for business."

And he spoke of both the "ghastly problems" and "huge opportunities" faced by the region.

The disease's grip, which was first tightened in February, was officially ended in the UK on 22 January, but estimates from the Welsh Assembly put the cost of the crisis at around 500m.

Powys - which saw successive distressing cattle culls - was amongst the worst affected areas, with farming and tourism businesses going to the wall through lack of export returns.

Windy visit

Struggling in his brogues, the Prince braved fierce, blustery winds to meet pony trekkers at the Cantref Riding Centre, which was forced to lay off staff after a 93% drop in turnover.

Many of the area's mountain paths remain closed as parts of Wales continue to feel the pinch.

It's been for me enormously frustrating to do not nearly enough to help

Prince of Wales
With his clothes becoming increasingly dirty and walking with a Corgi, he toured the facility, which offers short breaks, saying as he pointed to his shoes: "I'm not dressed for this."

He was shown the grounds by Cantref owner Colin Evans and his family before unveiling a plaque commemorating his visit and talking to Beacons trust members.

Later, Charles chatted with farmers at a local pub.

His visit came a day before farmers are due to gather at St James' Palace for a morale-boosting reception.

Disease horror

"It's been for me enormously frustrating to do not nearly enough to help," he said.

"Having come here today I have tried to go around different parts of the country that have been hit by this horror.

"I know here on this farm they have had the most ghastly problems.

"I just wanted to try and remind people that there are actually huge opportunities in this part of the world."

His visit came as the National Farmers' Union in Wales attempted to wrangle control of rural affairs policy from Westminster.

A report from the union claimed foot-and-mouth disease could have been stopped quicker and more effectively had the Welsh Assembly gained devolved responsibility for farming.

Welsh Rural Affairs Minister Carwyn Jones was reported to be sympathetic to the views.

BBC Wales's Melanie Doel
"Almost a year after foot-and-mouth began, Charles witnessed the devastation at first-hand"
See also:

03 Jan 02 | Wales
Farm crisis costs reach 500m
23 Feb 01 | Business
Counting the cost of the disease
01 Apr 01 | Wales
Foot-and-mouth factfile
27 Feb 01 | Wales
Farmer 'devastated' by outbreak
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