FARMERS in Durham and Northumberland were left with mixed feelings last night when they escaped the threat of a widespread cull of healthy stock.

Agriculture minister Nick Brown's "safety first" policy to combat foot-and-mouth disease, which is backed by farming groups, will leave swathes of empty farmland in the country's worst affected area of Cumbria.

Thousands of healthy animals within three kilometres of infected farms will be destroyed as the Government orders desperate measures to control the spread of the disease.

The same draconian policy will apply in southern Scotland where 200,000 sheep - equivalent to one per cent of the Scottish flock - will be shot mainly around Canonbie and Lockerbie.

And up to 100,000 sheep which may have come into contact with diseased animals through markets in Longtown, Welshpool and Northampton will also be traced and killed.

In Devon, where foot-and-mouth has been spreading from farm to farm, vets and trained lay staff will carry out "intensive patrols" within three kilometres of the county's 34 infected farms.

Christopher Stephenson, farms a few hundred yards away from two infected farms near Wolsingham, County Durham, where funeral pyres burned yesterday. Another case was confirmed nearby at Low Houselop, near Tow Law.

Mr Stephenson said: "We are not sure whether to be relieved the cull does not apply to us or not. It would be tragic to lose any stock but these are very difficult times and I would be surprised if similar measures weren't introduced here soon."

In disease-free areas Mr Brown intends to relax movement restrictions over the next week to ten days.

Farmers will be compensated if they choose to shoot animals which cannot be moved because of their condition or because they are in infected areas.

NFU president Ben Gill said: "There will be many tears around the British countryside today. Our farms should be starting to jump to life with new-born lambs and calves.

"Instead many will feel that spring has been cancelled and their farms are simply 'dead'."