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£10M MISTAKE 

09:00 - 09 September 2003 
Controversial foot and mouth burial pit is returned to nature

The most graphic image of the Government's catastrophic handling of the foot and mouth crisis is finally to be obliterated as the first bulldozers yesterday prepared to fill in a huge unused burial pit in North Devon.

Today the Western Morning News publishes exclusive pictures of renovating equipment preparing to restore the Ash Moor pit which was earmarked for more than 500,000 animal carcasses at the height of the 2001 epidemic.

The 100-acre site, which is owned by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has cost the taxpayer 㾶 million despite never being used.

Created amid a storm of protest, Ash Moor became a lasting symbol of the Government's strong-arm tactics during the crisis.

Local group, STAMP (Stop The Ash Moor Pit) which campaigned vigorously against site, yesterday declared "victory at last".

Spokesman Vernon Brown said: "This is an amazing victory for us. We were determined never to let the site be used for animal carcass disposal - it was never suitable and now it looks like it will be restored to what it was before any of this happened."

The work is due to start later this week and is expected to take up to five months. During the huge operation, more than 75,000 tonnes of stone and rubble will be moved off the site.

Ian Johnson, a spokesman for the South West NFU said: "It was an example of blundering on a massive scale and will not be missed by anybody."


MASS ANIMAL BURIAL SITE FINALLY LAID TO REST

NATHAN PYNN AND PAUL ANDREWS

09:00 - 09 September 2003

The controversial Ash Moor burial pit - which symbolised the Government's blunders over its handling of the foot and mouth crisis - will finally be put to rest this week as the first bulldozers moved in to fill in the huge holes which were intended to hold up to 500,000 animal carcasses. Bristol-based company Churngold Remediaton has been given the contract, by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to restore the pit to farmland.

More than 75,000 tonnes of materials are expected to be extracted from the site including lime stone from three of the planned 15 barrows which were eventually dug.

The work is expected to take up to 20 weeks to complete before being put on the market as farmland.

It is expected to fetch around 300,000 with all the proceeds going back into Government coffers.

Local group STAMP (Stop The Ash Moor Pit) have campaigned to see the site restored.

Vernon Brown, of STAMP, said: "I am surprised that work will begin this year - we had it in our minds that it wouldn't be until next spring.

"Any work being done on the site is good news but we must now look to the future."

One resident, who did not want to be named, said: "Why has Defra wasted all the good weather and only started to restore the site now when we are starting to get into autumn and winter, if they are not deliberately delaying doing the work.

"While it is still Government-owned property it will not be safe. If another foot and mouth outbreak was to happen and the work restoring the site is not finished then they are more likely to use it."

A Defra spokesman said: "We will basically restore the site back to what it was before, which was part of the land owned by quarry company Imerys."

John Burnett, Lib-Dem MP for Torridge and West Devon, whose constituency includes Ash Moor, said the restoration work signalled the end of an "appallingly managed episode by the Government".

"This was always a totally unsuitable site for mass animal burial and it is a disgrace that so much public money has been wasted on it.

"What Defra should do now is to donate the land to a conservation group like the Devon Wildlife Trust for a wildlife haven.

"The thought of what the consequences could have been if the site was used is unbearable. The animal effluent could well have run into the water supply and that would have been disastrous. The story could have been very, very different."

Ian Johnson, a spokesman for the South West National Farmers Union, said: "It was an example of blundering on a massive scale and will not be missed by anybody."

He added that the Government owed it to the residents and farmers to erect a lasting memorial to the whole crisis which devastated the Westcountry.

"A permanent monument needs to be built at the site to remind future generations of the suffering it caused to thousands of animals and humans - a monument which should be unveiled by Defra Secretary Margaret Beckett or Tony Blair."

The burial site has become a symbol of the mismanagement of the whole crisis representing the widening gulf between the Government and the farming communities the crisis hit.

Farmer Layland Branfield, who also became an icon of the human suffering of the crisis, said the filling in of Ash Moor would never draw a line under foot and mouth.

"No one can ever forget what happened. What I would like to see now are systems put into place to deal with any repeat of the outbreak.

"Ash Moor was a huge white elephant which should never have happened. The most important thing now is for the Government to learn from the mistakes it made and to move on."

npynn@ westernmorningnews.co.uk