FOR obvious reasons, feelings in rural communities are running high at present.

Emotions are charged among farmers who are living in fear of having their livestock slaughtered.

And businesses in the countryside are struggling as the public have stuck to advice to stay well clear of areas infected with foot-and-mouth.

Faced with the real prospect of economic ruin, the resolve of rural communities will be tested to the utmost.

These are times for reason and responsibility.

We have witnessed those qualities in the measured response to the crisis from the National Farmers' Union. It has not sought to blame anyone for the crisis, but has concentrated on support for the measures in hand to combat the outbreak.

Yesterday, we witnessed those qualities from the Government. Its message that the countryside was not out of bounds as long as people behaved responsibly will not bring the tourist trade back to normal levels, but it will prompt an upturn which may make the difference between survival and extinction for many businesses.

Regrettably, we did not see any signs of reason and responsibility from the leaders of the Farmers For Action group.

Ever keen to exploit any crisis for their own political agenda, they warned of "all-out war" and "rural revolt".

When the future of much of our countryside is at stake, such divisive comments must be treated with the contempt they deserve.

Instead, all efforts must be concentrated on bringing this crisis to a swift conclusion.