FMD and Hot Air Ballooning

As you may be aware as soon as the FMD outbreak was announced UK balloonists unanimously, through their governing body the BBAC (British Balloon and Airship Club), undertook to impose a voluntary cessation of flying throughout the country. The information was circulated very quickly and within days all ballooning in the UK ceased. This voluntary ban has remained in force ever since. Now the high profile press reporting of FMD has diminished, and following the opening of much of the country's footpaths and some green areas, the perception by some balloonists is that the countryside is now open again and there is now no reason, especially in Provisionally Disease Free areas such as East Anglia, why flying should not recommence.

To this end the BBAC has been in talks at national level with DEFRA, NFUand the CLA to devise a way that they can return to flying while FMD is still virulent in the UK.There are a substantial number of balloonists who feel this is a very bad idea. It is fair to say that local balloonists flying in PFAs pose very little threat, however opening up such areas will inevitably invite balloonists from both At Risk and Infected Areas to travel down to these areas and fly.

The nature of ballooning means that one can never, with certainty, predict the final landing site. We do pride ourselves, however, on having a very good map marking and information service whereby problem areas can be quickly and efficiently notified to balloonists and where necessary marked on maps accordingly. Occasionally things do go wrong and incidents occur but over the past few years great steps have been taken to improve relations between farmers and balloonists by educating balloonists in all aspects of the countryside and setting up clear guidelines that farmers and balloonists can use should an incident occur. Sadly in the case of FMD there is no way that accurate mapping of suspected, infected or contiguous farms can be sourced. The DEFRA site does not show enough detail and is not sufficiently upto date. Add to this the problem of identifying farmers the length and breadth of Britain who have effectively barricaded themselves in and it is easy to see that a return to flying while FMD is still out there would very quickly destroy all the hard work put in by both farmers and balloonists to maintain workable relationships over the years. This is apart from the fact that farmers are once again being reminded to be vigilant about precautions and that the Government vet has announced publicly that isolated outbreaks can be expected anywhere.

We cannot control all the balloonists and there are certainly going to be some that will go flying regardless. What we as a group are keen to see is maintaining the voluntary ban rather than encouraging finding alternatives that would result in a premature return to flying.

The opinion of the farming community is paramount in this so I am asking you for your thoughts and opinions on balloons once again taking to air while FMD is still active. Please let me assure you that there are many of us that will not be flying until the outbreak is over and we ask for your support. Please lobby either or local NFU/CLA or you can email direct to the Chairman of the BBAC d.bareford@bham.ac.uk or myself at chrisdunkley@compuserve.com and I will collate and forward any comments you have. Time is of the essence as a meeting is to be held on July 18th in London between the various groups to approve a return to flying. Thankyou. Chris Dunkley 01296 624725 (work).