BUSINESSES in the Wear Valley face massive losses as the foot-and-mouth crisis tightens its grip.

Visitors are staying away from the area in droves as footpaths are closed and people are warned to keep out of the countryside.

Pubs, shops and cafes have already noticed a drop in sales and farmers face the collapse of their holiday cottage trade on top of their livestock losses.

Weardale landlady Wendy Peart, from the Bluebell Inn, at St John's Chapel said: "We have hardly had any visitors at all to the dale since the outbreak.

"Obviously caravan sites were opening at the beginning of March but that has been delayed for a month.

"People used to visit around about now to check their caravans and pop in, and of course we don't have any walkers.''

The Black Bull, at Frosterley, has already felt the impact of the delayed caravan season.

Landlord Kevin Armstrong said: "Nobody is passing through at all and we are right down compared to previous years.

"After a long winter we should be starting to pick up a bit. We are just breaking even but we have no choice but to ride it out and hope for a good summer.''

Caf Poco, in Wolsingham, is losing two coachloads of customers every week and is feeling the pinch.

Colin Lomas, whose sons Richard and Alexander run the place, said: "People have been adhering to the restrictions. We are open because we get local trade as well and that is who we get up for. They support us and we support them.

"Everybody is feeling it but I feel sorry for the farmers. They are really getting a tough time of it and they don't deserve it.''

Secretary of Weardale chamber of trade Jeff Gale, who runs a caf in Tow Law with his wife Alma, said that there was a definite knock-on effect on businesses.

He said: "Our customers are mostly cattle transporters, farmers, farm labourers and forestry transporters.

"This is definitely having a knock-on effect and it doesn't seem to be getting any better.''