The farming community took another important step towards normality yesterday after more business returned to the region's cattle marts.

A year to the day after Barnard Castle Auction Mart shut because of foot-and-mouth, farmers yesterday gathered to buy new stock.

The County Durham mart was again a hive of activity and the mart's organisers declared it a huge success and a relief after the devastation caused by the epidemic.

Other marts in the region are scheduled to re-open in the next few weeks.

The marts have to be inspected by officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) before they can be issued with a licence, and have to follow strict bio-security procedures during the auctions.

Hexham mart re-opened on Friday and Middleton-in-Teesdale on Monday, with Leyburn mart, in North Yorkshire, scheduled to open tomorrow.

Stokesley mart is scheduled to open on Saturday with Penrith on Monday, Hawes, in North Yorkshire, on Tuesday, and Kirkby Stephen mart, in Cumbria, on March 3.

Darlington mart, which was to open on Monday, will now open on February 28.

Thirsk Farmers' Auction Mart has been hit by a row between Defra officials over sheep in an adjacent field and is yet to announce when it can hold its first auction.