FARMERS in the North-East face a lean winter in the aftermath of the foot-and-mouth epidemic.

Although many restrictions imposed in rural areas have been lifted, the knock-on effects of the outbreak are expected to linger for years in farming communities.

That was the message which emerged from a seminar examining the effects of the foot-and-mouth crisis and the plans for a rural recovery, staged at County Hall, Durham, yesterday.

Farmers' leaders fear some small holders and tenant farmers could go to the wall this winter.

David Maughan, vice-chairman of the Durham and North Yorkshire branch of the National Farmers' Union, said many members have been "very deeply touched" by the crisis.

Eighty-five cases of the disease were confirmed in Durham, the fourth worst-hit English county. Many adjoining farms lost stock.

About 140,000 animals were killed in the county, including 108,846 sheep, 23,441 cattle, 9,113 pigs and 154 goats.

Mr Maughan, a tenant at Morton Tinmouth Farm, between Darlington and Barnard Castle, escaped any confirmed cases but had 200 cattle slaughtered as a neighbour was affected.

"Many people who haven't even lost stock have been tied up on farms, with additional, unbudgeted for expenditure.

"They have had to see a way through this and they have had very hard times. Cash flows will be stretched to breaking point on many farms this winter."

Mr Maughan, also NFU livestock committee chairman for Durham and Northumberland, said he would be more pessimistic if EU farming subsidies are cut in coming years.

The European parliament will vote next week on whether to stage its own inquiry into the outbreak.