2001: February/March | April | May | June | July | August | September | October | November | December | 2002: January


The comments made on this page are not the political line or official opinions of any body or organisation. I am publishing what I have seen and what has happened to my neighbours, what has been felt and what has been said. It is in the plainest sense a diary -- personal, even possibly inaccurate, but just one person's record of our hopes, fears, frustrations and confusion amid major tragedies and minor triumphs.

Date sent: Sun, 1 Apr 2001 22:39:20 +0100

"I heard on TV that over half the livestock in England will be lost to F&M." I don't know where they got that one from. Half the livestock in Cumbria, maybe. The news figures earlier in the week suggested we may have lost 1.5% of the total herds/flocks in the UK. We do have more than 37 MILLION sheep in Britain (hence the Woolmark ad "wear British wool - 37 M sheep can't be wrong"). But the cull total going over 1 Million (cattle AND sheep) is about 3% of that sheep flock total.

"I heard on the ABN (AgriBusiness Network) that two counties in England will be vaccinating all cloven-footed animals for FAM as an attempt to stop the spread of the disease." We've been granted permission to do so, but it hasn't happened yet. The Army is co-ordinating the mass cull and doing it with ruthless efficiency. The ministry of Ag has been tied up in red tape and the Army have cut through that to bury more sheep in 5 days than the ministry did in 5 weeks. People are happier with burial than with burning. The animals are put on the pyres before those are lit - lots of vapourising water and virus laden steam before the temperatures get high enough to kill the virus. I worry when I read that the virus dies in the acid conditions of a stiffening carcase, but can be carried on infected meat.... do they KNOW what they are talking about? Oh well.

Sunshine today and lambs about. Our fields are lucky - live lambs, enough grass and people able to come to feed them hay. The animal welfare people should be having kittens over what is happening elsewhere in the county. Hill farmers are trying to organise a gene bank for the Herdwicks and Rough Fells and they are even talking about vaccination although for some reason Ben Gill the NFU man is against it as an overall policy.

Date sent: Mon, 2 Apr 2001 20:23:33 +0100

I've been awake since 4-20 this morning when G* went out to start the wagon and go to get hay from Yorkshire for a customer. We are very busy with the haulage. It's partly because the Ministry are recommending keeping the cattle indoors as an attempt to prevent them getting F&M. Normally they'd be thinking about turning out, especially in some of the milder areas. So keep is getting short. Of course, any hay crop on a farm that's had F&M is burned to prevent the spread of the disease, so everyone is short of hay even though there are fewer animals to eat it. I lay awake worrying about this (pointless of course but then the small hours are not noted for sanity) until it was light, then got up and had a bath and gave myself a shake mentally. Our neighbour's son who was up this morning shepherding their lambing ewes also said he'd been sitting in the byre with the ewes with twins "nice and cosy, and started studying." He meant he was worrying about F&M -- and he went on worrying, until he realised the weather was getting wetter outside and he had better get on with feeding. And he isn't given to deep thought for much of the time. It's on everyone's mind, all the time. I just come home and breathe a sigh of relief to find there are no fires or pits in the valley each night. I check the Ministry web site daily. For a very short while there was a graph showing the number of animals slaughtered each day compared with the number "disposed of" ie burned or buried. The two lines were diverging rapidly and it was downright frightening. I wasn't surprised they removed it from the site. Now that the Army has taken over the mass burials, they are overhauling the figures at a good rate. But the things I read in the local paper, with first hand accounts from farmers who have been affected, would turn you sick at the welfare and hygiene issues that are involved. I think I may have mis-heard one of the things I quoted to you in the last email "I worry when I read that the virus is killed by temps over 15 degrees C " I think this should have read "50 degrees C". Which is not so unbelievable.

Date sent: Sun, 1 Apr 2001 16:53:30 +0100

It's all very sad round Penrith and North Cumbria right now. I'm keeping quiet, because there's nothing around Tebay at the moment (famous last words). What I read in the paper this weekend, first hand accounts from farmers about bungled culling / killing / organisation or lack of it, is stomach-turning stuff. It needs keeping for future farming generations to read. Someone said on the local radio on Friday that the only people who seemed to have any idea about what they were doing were the Army. I wish they had been brought in to deal with this lot when it was first suggested four or five weeks ago. Everyone is full of sympathy for those who are losing stock - and equally, there are some who are reviled because their stock have carried the infection for some time before being reported. I am also sorry for all the other businesses that are going to go under, whose stock in trade is less tangible - hotels, bed and breakfast houses, food manufacturers, craft producers (all of these last 3 often on farms as diversification!) I count my blessings every time I drive home, and see that the view over the fell to our valley has no funeral pyres.

Date sent: Fri, 6 Apr 2001 18:40:31 +0100

Tomorrow is the Grand National Steeplechase too so we must try to find a TV around 3.30. It's about the last big race of the season and the one even the old grannies bet on. We lost the Cheltenham Festival which is the creme de la creme of steeplechasing; usually around 15-17 March, it was postponed a month and then cancelled after F&M was discovered on a farm only a couple of miles away from the course. So now it's in a restricted zone and can't be held anyway.

T is indoors to dry off in case L* wants to see him tomorrow. I haven't driven him in an age. There's no point in winding my neighbours up. Such a lot of things have been cancelled which would have been fun - I haven't even received tickets for the film I was going to see tomorrow night. In a way this is good because it means I can go and eat dinner at the pub with L*, the T* clan and some Fell pony people who are coming from all over to meet up and have a good "crack". I hope G* will be able to come with me. He's been very busy delivering hay and straw to the farms. Trouble is, sources are drying up. He can only collect from farms without livestock - clean stock-farms in Yorkshire just don't want a Cumbrian wagon coming in, and you can't blame them. He's spending a lot on pressure-washing the wagon each day plus carrying a sprayer of disinfectant in the cab. He hasn't had a day off for about a fortnight and is working all hours. So I guess he may just want to go to bed on Saturday night. Most of the time he's too tired to discuss it so I don't even start! We're still free of the disease around here. L* and B* got a full dose of the smoke when they went to see a Fell pony breeder and her family on Monday - the farm's sheep had been culled the day before and the pyre was burning strongly. They knew about what's been going on, but it was pretty emotional stuff for a holiday. In a way I have got off very lightly - I was off campus when F&M was suspected at Newton Rigg, so I didn't get "corralled" until the evening as did my colleagues and many students; I was on courses in Preston for much of the following week; and we are still in a clean area here. All I've seen is the pyres from a distance. I haven't had to endure the stench of animals lying slaughtered in fields near my house, awaiting collection for rendering or burning or burial. And every time I come over the fell homewards, I am grateful there is nothing unusual happening in our valley. Please God it will stay that way. So yes, I can stay fairly positive. It's been much much harder for those who have endured it, and for those whose businesses have been badly affected, such as tourist hotels and bed and breakfast houses. Some of the letters in the paper last week and the week before would make you weep with their descriptions. I deleted the descriptions here after I wrote about them. They are too horrible.

Newspaper reports from "C&W Herald" last weekend (31 March):

Nine sheep still alive after cull at Croglin (conscious? we don't know)

Farm at High Head Castle, Ivegill, has cattle slaughtered, but bodies lie in their yard until they disintegrate before being scraped up and taken away

Crows "commute" between slaughtered stock and feed troughs in neighbouring fields

Cattle are diagnosed with F&M but it is 4 days before slaughter teams arrive to deal with them

Date sent: Tue, 10 Apr 2001 18:47:36 +0100

I have been busy, with L*'s visit.

From Kirkstone we came down to Patterdale and Glenridding - very quiet, because these are "walkers' villages" and the walkers can't go on the fells because of F&M restrictions, so, very few walkers. Coming back to Penrith we passed a couple of pyres alight - no big shocks there because L* and B* had already seen such things earlier in the week.

Date sent: Tue, 10 Apr 2001 05:07:35 EDT

Subject: A VET's VIEW

Into The Valleys of Death
In response to a huge demand from listeners, (to Radio Cumbria) we're pleased to bring you this moving prose written by Peter Frost-Pennington. It was written in the early hours one morning last week when he was taking a few hours break from killing animals - he's a retired vet, called in to help with the current crisis.

Damien Hurst has nothing on me! I create ghostly pictures of death, officially sanctioned. I have to believe this mass sacrifice of animals I love is worth it. Or is it the farmers who are the real sacrifice? Like the animals, they take it meekly and obediently often thanking me for doing it After I had killed all 356 cattle in one family's dairy herd they sent flowers to my wife. These are the people who are giving up all, in the hope it will save others. But don't get me wrong! I have now seen plenty of this plague and it is no common cold. The animals suffer horribly, as the skin of their tongues peels off and their feet fall apart. We must try to kill them quick and clean, as soon as it appears in a herd or flock. The farmers' suffering does not end with the visit of the Slaughter men. I must continue to do my duty in these Cumbrian killing fields, quickly, efficiently and effectively. Yes, the official papers must all be in place. Yes, the Health and Safety man must be happy. Yes, the Environment Agency is only doing their job as best they can. It is 6am. Today I go out to kill again. The worst is the young stock. I thank God the lambs are not yet born with these ewes. Today I will have to kill a calf born yesterday, the first beautiful calf from the farmer's pride and joy - his new Charolais bull. This is not what I trained for. I hope familiarity will never make me immune from the trauma of killing. But I do hope - for the animals sake - to be good at it It is the virus we are trying to kill! With our disinfectants and culling policy our imprisonment of farmers in their own homes All they have left is the telephone. Perhaps today there is hope. One soldier will meet me at the farm gate, I hope he, not me, will quickly arrange the funeral of the animals I love. Before their carcasses get so bloated they fall apart. Adding more to the farmers' anguish, trapped amongst them. I should be free to move on quickly, find the virus and kill again. Into the Valley of Death drove the 600. Or are we now 1100? The countryside I love is bleeding to death. Mr Blair, please help. Peter Frost-Pennington

- Extract from MAFF's 'Consultation Document' 9. For an exempted nucleus breeding flock the following minimum conditions should apply: i. Entry would be based on applications submitted by owners or societies, setting out · Breed · Description and number of animals to be exempted · Scientific justification for exemption · Any evidence of scrapie genotype of sheep to be included · Premises where sheep now are · Premises where exempted flock to be held, including map ii. The premises on which the flock is to be held must · Be geographically defined area with a stock proof perimeter fence, and minimum separation of at least 200 metres from susceptible livestock on adjoining farms, a limited number of controlled entrances, and self contained facilities for handling and managing the flock · Have no rights of way or footpaths across the land · Have separate staff who live on premises, or on stock- fence premises nearby, and take full C & D precautions on entry and departure · Have full delivery arrangements which minimise the risk of introducing FMD to the flock iii. After establishment (by selection from the original flock) the retained flock must remain closed, with no movements in or out, for the duration of the emergency. iv. All sheep must be individually identified and recorded. v. Before registration as an exempted flock blood samples collected by owner’s veterinary surgeon from all the sheep must be submitted for serological testing at Pirbright, with negative results. vi. Sheep should be inspected daily by the owner, and veterinary advice sought when necessary. vii. All Sheep must be blood sampled by the owners veterinary surgeon 14 days after movement to or establishment of the exempted unit, and sent to Pirbright for testing. viii. There must be written agreement that serological evidence of exposure to FMD virus would result in flock slaughter. - End of Extract

How many flocks will be able to meet all these conditions?

Date sent: Wed, 18 Apr 2001 22:13:37 +0100

F&M is having a deep influence on everything over here in Cumbria. We are just lucky that it hasn't breathed over Greenholme, and I have to add a precautionary YET with fingers crossed and so on. There have been some farms very close that have been inspected but found free of the disease. Things were busy in some tourist centres over Easter, and the estate people whom I talked to yesterday said they have had a busy weekend which will pay the wages for the next month, but it was eerily quiet on the roads for the week after the big spring break. Normally you can't either hurry or dawdle around Pooley Bridge and Ullswater - there are too many other cars about. Yesterday I more or less had the roads to myself. So, some places had a burst of income, while others I suspect did not. I daresay the local paper will have details at the weekend. People kept telling L* and B* that when they went home they must tell everyone else who was thinking of coming to visit the Lakes, "We are still here and still open!" I'm one of the lucky ones because I still have a job, and G* has been very busy with the haulage because people are trying hard to keep their cows indoors and are running out of hay and straw - so he is kept hard at it, delivering to keep the beasts fed. It's getting to be a close run thing sometimes. Two farms he delivered to the other day (a half load each) - one had not fed the cattle in 12 hours because he had no feed, the other had 12 hours forage left. There are sad stories from vets, trained to save lives and having to help put down healthy stock as part of the firebreak policy in places near infected farms. Day old and newborn calves and lambs. They hate it but say that vaccination is not good enough to be the answer. Then there are the stock out in turnip breaks, with nothing left of the turnips, and no grass, but not permitted to move to other places without a licence. Lambs are being born in fields that are knee deep in mud on people, let alone sheep. They get bogged and the crows come and help themselves. In any other time, the welfare people would be incensed. Unfortunately, if such stock are put down on welfare grounds the owner apparently only gets 70% of the compensation he would get if the stock caught F&M. You can't blame people for wondering if sometimes there are cases where the virus has been deliberately passed on. I couldn't do it, but then, I'm not desperate. Oh well. You'd be amazed at how people in farming are still going to go on and restock. I daresay some will take the money and get out, even if they have to give some back for doing so, but most seem to want only the virus to be beaten and life to get back to normal.

Date sent: Wed, 25 Apr 2001 22:50:21 +0100

I haven't even had my horsebox tested for this year. There doesn't seem any point. All the shows I would have gone to are cancelled, including the one where I was to have judged. Race meetings in Cumbria are off too (though I don't go - hardly at all!) because there have been F&M outbreaks within 3 Km of both our courses, Carlisle and Cartmel. I am looking at the weather getting warmer and being tempted to drive, but I think my self imposed quarantine with Mr T will be the better choice. G* takes disinfectant precautions with the wagon several times a day, but that's still enough risk as far as I am concerned. I don't want anyone saying I have transferred the disease from our place to anywhere nearby, by driving the carriage. You never know when a farm you were on two days ago, collecting or delivering hay, will discover today that it's got F&M. This happened to us last week but we counted up and found the underneath of the wagon had been disinfected 19 times in the interim. So if anyone's stock caught F&M from us, disinfectant procedures are a waste of time. So far, all is quiet round here and nobody is saying anything about the wagon travelling about. It's a bit nerve wracking in the areas where it's currently still clean - farmers are feeling the stress quite badly; some almost wish they'd get the disease and could be done with it. I don't think they would like it though if it happened.

The paddock looks very bare, and Mr T is very enthusiastic when I come home, whinnying the moment the car stops, to let me know that "the hay has run out here!" We have four small bales of hay and four large ones in the barn, and that's about it. G* has gone to Norfolk with a colleague's 3 axle wagon and trailer to get hay and bring it back for the farmers round here. Grass is growing but the Ministry of Ag are telling farmers to keep cattle in if possible because their chances of catching F&M are 50% less indoors (we hope!). So feed stocks are getting very low.

2001: February/March | April | May | June | July | August | September | October | November | December | 2002: January