Sir, - The countryside is being closed by stealth. The government say it's open, but it isn't.

Where is Tony Blair going for his Easter family holiday - some warm foreign part?

If the priority is to stop the spread of the disease, why isn't the government honest and close us down, stop the locals travelling, keep visitors out, and pay us. They could do this with "a set-a-side scheme" as operated in agriculture. We will close up shop and they pay us, using last year's tax estimates. The whole community would then benefit from some income.

The government says it is working hard, but what about the high powered rural affairs committee consisting of nine cabinet ministers which was set up on November 10, 1999, to co-ordinate policies affecting rural areas?

Mo Mowlem promised to protect rural communities, but it has only met once, and has been silent during our present rural crisis.

People are fed up of task groups. We need action now. We need a multi-agency approach.

Bills have to be paid, wages and mortgages paid and food put on the tables for families. There are plenty of helplines, interest-free loans from banks which have to be paid back, help with rates, and instalments of VAT payments etc, but it is only nibbling at the edges for people who have lost 80pc of their early season income.

Wensleydale has suffered since the first case was confirmed in early March. Every ten days since we have been hit, by further outbreaks and farmers generously agreeing to voluntary culls. When will it stop?

We have quiet roads with very few vehicles on them, very few visitors to attractions which are open. It is eerily quiet. Now, after culling, we have empty fields.

We are desperate to get FMD under control. All businesses are affected not just farmers. The shops are empty, B&Bs are receiving cancellations daily, workers are on short time and being laid off, plumbers and builders are having contracts cancelled and more cases of FMD being confirmed daily in our county.

So few parliamentary constituencies are affected out of the 600 or so. Up and until the crisis hits Westminster, who is going to listen and help rural communities? When the fuel crisis hit London, action followed. Well the rural crisis is here and it isn't going to go away for quite a while.

We need a rural aid fund now.




We loved it

Sir, - Last week my wife, I, and two friends had a very enjoyable holiday based at a holiday cottage near Hawes. Whilst we were well aware of the restrictions and the anxiety felt by local farmers and businesses, we felt it was right to show our solidarity and support in these difficult times.

Although at other times we would have been keen to make use of the footpaths, we found other very satisfactory activities for our holiday. Walking and cycling on the quieter roads in Dentdale, Swaledale and Wensleydale was much more enjoyable than we thought. Gift shops, pubs and tea shops were delighted to see us.

The scenery was, as always, magnificent, whether seen from bicycle, car or the Settle-Carlisle railway. We will return again and enjoy the footpaths with even greater appreciation when they are re-opened.

I once heard that only a very small proportion of tourists walk more than 50 yards from their car. The implication is that the vast majority would be able to enjoy the dales countryside even with the restrictions.


Whitby Drive,


Are they sure?

Sir, - I hope the so-called experts know exactly what they are doing with this mass cull of apparently healthy animals, cows in particular.

The majority of cows will have been inside since the autumn and therefore should not have been exposed to the virus in the same way as the sheep that are outside all year round

When dairy cows are culled the farmer loses his breeding-stock, which in many cases has taken more than one operation to build up and are known individually to the farmer. (At the time of writing this letter three such disease-free herds are being slaughtered only five miles from my home).

The meat we eat comes from animals under 30 months old, many of the breeding cows may have been on the farm for years - farmers do not sell cows that produce healthy calves for them and a good milk yield afterwards. The argument from some quarters that the animals would have been killed anyway does not therefore stand up. It is soon enough to kill them when they catch the disease.

If we continue with the policy of killing healthy cows "in case" they catch foot-and-mouth we run the very real risk that this country will lose its milk production completely and will be left to the mercy of imported milk, not a pleasant thought.

For a number of years now the person taking the greatest risk in milk production - the farmer - has made the least profit per litre.

The risk is now apparent with generations of breeding being wiped out overnight.

Many farmers will not be able to start up again once this epidemic is halted.

Those who do, cannot re-stock until six months after the last outbreak, that assumes there is stock to be had of course. It will then take a year or more before they receive an income from that stock. I sincerely hope this government takes this into account when providing compensation packages for the farmers.

If we went into any city and said there was an outbreak of parvovirus and to prevent its spread all the healthy dogs in a certain area were to be rounded up and slaughtered, there would be a public outcry. Where is the outcry for the farmers?


Eden Road,



BBC question

Sir, - As soon as the foot-and-mouth disease epidemic raised its head, the BBC immediately sought to blame the farming community for the outbreak.

On Friday, March 2, it presented a programme in which it asked the question: "Now that we have foot-and-mouth disease do you still have confidence in British food?", despite the fact that foot-and-mouth disease presents no risk to human health.

Now that it has been established that the likely cause has been the illegal importation of meat sold into Chinese restaurants, perhaps I might suggest that it puts on a programme in which it poses the question: "Now that we have foot-and-mouth disease do you still have confidence to eat in a Chinese restaurant?"


Boroughbridge Road,


Work's dried up

Sir, - Having been in the dry stone walling industry for most of my working life, the recent foot-and-mouth epidemic suffered by farmers and landowners has also had catastrophic effects for many of my colleagues who rely on the countryside for their living.

Every waller who has phoned and spoken to me of their plight all have the deepest sympathy and understanding for the farmers and landowners who have had to make their land "no go areas" to the many service industries such as dry stone wallers and other craft persons in order to stop contamination.

I am sure I speak on behalf of many dry stone wallers from all areas, in wishing and praying for a speedy end to this crisis.


Yorkshire Dry Stone Walling Guild

Sowerby Crescent,


Don't blame God

Sir, - In reply to B Hughes's letter (D&S, Mar 30), I have been puzzled as to the cause of BSE, floods and now foot-and-mouth disease, but to put them down to immorality and homosexuality seems to be stretching logic a bit too far.

I do not think that the nation's farmers will for one moment accept these reasons for this latest outbreak, preferring to believe that whilst in insurance terms it could be classed as "an act of God" in the long run God had nothing to do with it.


The Old Quaker Meeting House,



Come together

Sir, - It seems obvious now that the foot-and-mouth epidemic is becoming an "out of control" situation, in spite of the severe measures taken by the government.

It is quite possible that the disease has spread, more by crows, rooks, ravens, jackdaws, etc. than by people walking or driving over, or near to farmland.

It is, no doubt, essential to disinfect boots, farm vehicles, etc but one cannot disinfect birds' beaks and claws. Animal carcases lying about on farmland, for days (or weeks) could make the situation worse.

In any case, the only solution to this massive problem must be an extensive programme of vaccination as an alternative to the wholesale slaughter of healthy animals. In order to save farming and the tourist industry from complete collapse, it is vital that this be carried out without delay.

A general election at this critical time is surely unthinkable. To deal with this horrendous problem, we need to have an emergency coalition government.


Marwood Crescent,