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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: Sat, 5 May 2001 17:33:04 +0100

Dear Sirs
I write to express dismay at the scheduling of two advertisements back-to-back during the Channel 4 Racing this afternoon. The first was the Samaritans' reminder that they are there to listen, depicting some of the farmers who had had their livestock killed in the battle against Foot and Mouth disease. I am an ex farmer in Cumbria and their grief and distress moved me to tears. Imagine my shock when this was immediately followed by the Hewlett Packard advertisement showing two Alpine climbers watching a soap opera on their mobile phones and weeping sham tears. I turned off my set and went out for an hour but I'm still angry at the crass juxtaposition of these two sequences. The men and women shown in the Samaritans advert - some of whom I know - may be kind enough not to accuse you of insensitivity. Personally, I think you have deeply insulted them. Yours etc

Date sent: Tue, 8 May 2001 22:04:39 +0100

F&M seems to be dying down. There are worries for the Ulverston and South Lakes area, but there was only one case, in the north, today in Cumbria. I read an email from someone in the States that suggested the ban on imports of horses from the UK has been lifted, since the writer knew of some horses that had just arrived. Vets in PA had had a conference, too, and talked of culling in a 6 MILE radius around any F&M outbreak in that state - ALL animals not just cloven hoofed ones. The vet's wife with whom I coresponded said her husband was furious with their attitude. Let's just hope the disease doesn't get across to America, that's all! My neighbours are worried, not about the disease, but about going bankrupt while they can't sell stock to make ends meet. They want hay to feed but don't know where the money will come from. Normally I'd be arranging how much to charge for letting out our grass to them, but I daren't mention it. If they can't pay for it, probably neither can anyone else. W*'s sheep just have to stay there because of restrictions. G* is away again tonight. He is on the other side of the Pennines, having been to Norfolk again, this time for straw. One or two enquiries have come in for fertiliser, but crop takes precedence right now, with the cattle still indoors in so many places.

Date sent: Wed, 9 May 2001 19:30:28 +0100

Here in Cumbria it feels extremely odd. There are areas where there isn't an animal in sight and the grass is growing - until the farmers decide to plough. We're going to have a lot more ploughland this year around Carlisle, Penrith, Wigton and Silloth. Then there are places like around Tebay (where I live) where there are sheep and lambs in every field eating their owners out of house and home. They need special licences to be moved to other pastures, and there is no cash coming in for the owners to buy more hay. My neighbours almost wish their stock had had F&M because then they'd have had some compensation.... if that's the way they feel, I might as well be taking my pony out driving instead of staying in to make sure I don't upset anybody who might think I'd spread the disease. Our footpaths and bridleways are still closed.

The funeral pyres have been replaced by the bodywagons. It's a little better, though not much. The funeral pyres were an awful mistake. They were meat and drink to the media because of their dramatic images, but they were a terribly depressing thing for those who had to endure them, whether as a bereaved farm family whose house was submerged under rolling clouds of stinking smoke from their own dead stock, or as neighbours who were unable to go to grieve with them; as villagers local to the mass pyres at Great Orton, or even as uninvolved observers. To stand at your farm gate and see up to ten plumes of smoke rising in your vicinity and wonder whether your stock would be the next to go, was agonising. And of course the messages that the pyres sent out internationally were very offputting to potential international visitors.

The compensation is said to be good per animal, but it only really covers the stock value and doesn't take into account the fact that people have to live until the outbreak is over; that they will perhaps need another year spending money on feed for the new stock, let alone for themselves, while building up to a position where they can once again take some profit from their business. Non farming people don't appreciate how a stock farm runs - early starts and late finishes, very few holidays, and income controlled by how well the animals grow; a cash flow that has one or two large inputs, many large and small outputs, and if well planned a few small inputs that trickle in through the year. Nobody guarantees that a farm will make a profit. The small tenant or one-man band has no monthly salary, no automatic pension fund, just a lot of hard physical work in all weathers and a hell of a lot of office-created paperwork and rules that he has to comply with while he does it. If the people who talk about "featherbedding farmers" would go and try to do the job, they would soon change their minds.

Date sent: Mon, 28 May 2001 12:10:44 +0100

Right, let's have a collection of all the weird rumours and see how many turn out to be right. I have heard:
That the IRA have been driving around with F&M diseased tongues from sheep and throwing them out into fields
That a vet passed it on to a farm he visited when he had similar diseased material in his car awaiting analysis
That it's Saddam Hussein getting his own back - paralysing the infrastructure before he attacks
That the disease had been around in sheep, undiagnosed, in Dumfries & Galloway before Christmas 2000, and it was vets who spread it from farm to farm
That the Ministry of Agriculture was printing "Keep Out" disease notices before Christmas 2000
That the ministry had been enquiring about sources of wood and coal for pyres in January 2001, six weeks before the first confirmed outbreak
That the disease was deliberately spread from a test tube full of virus that went missing from a Ministry lab
That the source was imported meat from South Africa, in swill obtained from the Army at Catterick barracks and finally:
That after the election (of course) there may be a cull of all sheep in the Lake District so that tourists are able to walk and spend money there.

Any more? Let's have them all in one pot and see how many turn out true. Actually when you put some of these together they almost make a story. Hmmm.

People have said that living in Cumbria this spring is like living in a war zone. You just don’t know where the enemy will turn up next, and you can’t see him coming. Your neighbour may bring him on his breath, his boots, the muck under the Land Rover wheel arches. Some farmers are, shall we say, “less than careful”. Some don’t seem to put two and two together. One farm only a few miles from here, that had been diagnosed with F&M an hour and a half previously, allowed a milk tanker in to collect its milk. It went on to another three clean local farms before an official realised what had happened and got a message through to stop the driver going any further on his daily round. Luckily milk tankers have a virus filter on their air system, so no harm was done; but bulk feed “blower” wagons, for example, have no virus traps and have been definitely implicated in spreading the disease from infected farms to previously clean ones. Now, vets are being sent to ride-in with milk and feed wagons and with the rural postmen to assess whether they could be a source of the disease spreading. There is a very strong feeling that the Ministry of Agriculture, and even the vets, are becoming the enemy as well. A newly qualified woman vet diagnosed the disease in a farm’s cattle and is reported to have exclaimed to the stricken farmer: “This is so exciting for me! It’s the first time I’ve seen Foot and Mouth!” The wife of the man who witnessed this told me, "Hugh said, 'If she had been a man I would have punched her'." Stories abound of official high-handedness: animals culled although they were perfectly healthy because of wrong map references being given to the slaughter team; cattle being rounded up by motorbike and shot with rifles; cows attacking slaughter teams in berserk fury because their calves were being killed in front of their eyes. The most awful aspect of this killing is that is happening in Spring. I have lambed sheep and calved cows and I am simply appalled to think of pregnant ewes giving birth in the cattle wagon on the way to the slaughtering ground, lambs learning to jump just in time to be injected with death, calves with their silky coats and trusting eyes not realising that they are the next in line. I am just surprised that I’ve only heard of one incident of a farmer resisting the slaughter teams with a shotgun.

Yet farmers have spoken also of the care and discipline of other teams. Slaughtermen have waited while a farmer’s wife defiantly fed the pet lambs before they went onto the wagon to the mass burial site; have patted the farmer’s shoulder consolingly when he broke down and could not bring in the last field of his sheep to be taken -- and gone to complete the task themselves. Farmers’ wives give flowers to the tired vets who have pronounced the death sentence on their family’s livestock. The Brigadier in charge of the Army slaughter teams at Carlisle tells a young squaddie that he need not be ashamed of finding the relentless death-dealing “very upsetting, Sir”. It seems to have been here forever. People here perhaps talk a little less about F&M than they did in March and April, but it’s still like a dark cloud on your shoulder amid the sunshine and new life of spring. Cumbria and Devon will not forget this year, not in a lifetime.

What makes us angry where Foot and Mouth has hit hardest, is that there are people in other areas of the country, in cities and businesses, who simply have no awareness of what it has meant to us and do not care. Have you seen the advertisement on TV where Hewlett Packard show us a young lady working cheerfully to bring TV programs to your mobile phone, so that two actor “climbers” in alpine conditions can weep over a soap opera? I saw it last Saturday. It directly followed a very moving advertisement for the availability of our counselling and support charity, the Samaritans. That showed real people weeping, over the loss of their livestock, over the fact that they no longer had any reason to get out of bed in a morning. I cannot begin to explain how angry I was that these anguished people, some of them farmers whom I know, had been so insulted by the TV company’s cavalier and utterly thoughtless following of this painful, truthful advertisement with the frivolous high-tech one.

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