HUNTS are having to take emergency measures to survive as their incomes plummet due to foot-and-mouth disease.

The virus did what the Blair government has - as yet - failed to do when it brought hunting to an abrupt end in February. And there are fears next season may also fall victim to the aftermath.

Another casualty has been the point-to-point meetings which had barely started and are the hunts main source of income for the year.

The hounds, which are used to hard exercise even in the closed season, are feeling the frustration of milling around in restricted areas.

Mr Joe Townsend, huntsman at the Hurworth kennels, faces the prospect of becoming a one-man operation.

He explained: "This has obviously hit the point-to-point, the hunt ball and other events which we would have used for fundraising. We are down about £12,000, which goes towards paying wages, maintenance of vehicles, fuel and general running costs.

"It has hit us so badly we have had to ask our young whipper-in to take temporary work elsewhere through the summer. He may go to help with the cull in Cumbria."

The Hurworth, which has an incinerator, was one of the hunts issued with a licence to pick up fallen stock right at the beginning of the crisis.

"Obviously we have to be very careful. We have to disinfect to collect one animal, bring it back and disinfect to go to fetch another one. The journeys take longer and we use more fuel.

"MAFF wants us to do it, because they don't want carcasses lying around, which proves we do perform an important service to the rural community."

He added: "I would hope Mr Blair will back off. I am sure it is within the government's power to say we are going to meet you half way and form a compromise.

"If they go ahead with a ban on fox hunting it will be like kicking someone in the teeth when they are already down.

"I had a farmer telephone me today (Monday) saying he had foxes causing trouble - is there something you can do. It would go extremely against the grain, because I would have to go out and shoot them."

At the Bedale Hunt, huntsman Ben Slee is experiencing the same kind of problems.

"We are not picking up stock, but luckily I do have another source of food for the hounds," he said. "We are exercising them in two kennel paddocks, to keep movement as minimal as possible.

"We have lost a lot of income from the point-to-point and our end of season dinner and we have also cancelled the June open day."

He will not be replacing one of the huntsmen who is leaving and his own partner has been laid off from her job in the horse industry.

The Bedale is on standby to send its professionals to help with the culling in Cumbria.

It was a similar story at South Durham Hunt, where the acting master is Mr Mark Shotton, who also farms at Catlow Hall, South Wingate.

Last night the hunt was holding an emergency meeting to decide how they can survive the crisis.

"My anticipation is that there may not be any hunting during the next 12 months - which will mean we are out of it for 18 months.

"I think farmers will be very anxious about where people roam and what they do. I belong to a shooting syndicate as well and they are talking about no plans for shooting.

"We don't know how long this is going to last so we are looking on the black side."

The South Durham's huntsman is going to Carlisle for three weeks to help with the cull, through a scheme organised by the Countryside Alliance.

The Zetland Hunt is also having a committee meeting this week to look at the long term view which huntsman David Jukes fears is going to be very gloomy.

"If it goes along according to the 1967 rules, it is not looking good for next season. It could take us up to Christmas.

"In the meantime I have all those hounds to look after. They are being fed dog food, which is a huge shock to their system. They are not being exercised so they are just about bursting out of their skins."

The Zetland lost its point-to-point, hunter trials, the farmers' dance and even its annual cabaret pantomime.

"We live alongside the farmers, who are also our friends," said Mr Jukes. "We went out last night for my wife's 40th birthday, but it was a bit gloomy because nobody feels like socialising."

Probably for the first time ever, hunt staff have the time to take all the holidays they are entitled to. "But there is not much to look forward to after that," he said.

The sudden clampdown on point-to-point racing has slashed the income of trainer Chris Dennis, who runs a livery stable at Ingleton.

He takes horses by hunting them seven times during the season to qualify for a certificate to take part in the races. He did all the hard work for no reward this year.

"It is our major source of income for the year and only two races went ahead in this area.

"I still have some horses here, belonging to farmers who don't want them back on their land at the moment. They are now on half livery and will go out to grass when it dries out.

"I am having to lay off some staff, just keeping one full-timer. We have lost three months of income and we have a long summer ahead.

"Usually we have quite a few young horses come to us to go on to the shows, but they are not likely to be doing that this year. Our only hope is that we get a few horses to break in during the summer.