From Cumberland News today:


LADY Lowther remembers a letter written by a Carlisle farmer's wife who felt suicidal during the foot and mouth crisis. The woman was alone and struggling on the farm while her husband was out trying to make a living.

"She was so desperate and depressed and talked of going out to kill all her cattle and then killing herself," says Lady Lowther, who is the daughter-in-law of the Earl of Lonsdale.
"I wrote to her saying 'please don't buckle, don't give in.
"'You must fight and have the strength to continue.' She wrote back. Thank God she's still here."

This was one of hundreds of emotional pleas Lady Lowther dealt with from her home at Towcett House near Little Strickland, Penrith. She and her husband Hugh - Viscount Lowther - were on holiday in Andorra when the news came through of the first confirmed foot and mouth case. Lady Lowther said: "We were absolutely shocked, couldn't believe it." They returned home to chaos. Of their 14 tenanted farms on the Lowther estate, four came down with the disease but many more were taken out in the contiguous cull. Three farms survived with any stock intact, but all the sheep went.

Lady Lowther immediately began contacting farmers and their families locally and nationally, offering practical information and emotional support. She would scan farming publications for letters by despairing families and send them a note of encouragement so they wouldn't feel isolated. The 46-year-old mother-of-three said: "It was so uncertain and people were really worried. I got a lot of desperate letters, up to 20 a day. Even now, it's still going. "Farmers were segregated off, they didn't go anywhere for months, their kids didn't go to school. "They were crying out for help through the papers because they were terrified of the phone. "They were too scared to answer it in case it was Maff saying they were coming to cull their animals. "We didn't expect it to go on as long as this, and there's no guarantee it won't come back. We trusted the Government to get rid of it. "We thought they would've followed the advice from the inquiries into the 1967 outbreak. "The infected animals were taken out straight away and buried in quick lime because burning would spread the disease. They also seemed to be more careful about not damaging the rural economy."

Now the Lowthers fear for the future of farming, and the Viscount is particularly concerned about hill farming now that the sheep, which have been brought up on the fells for generations, have been wiped out.

He said: "You could put some new sheep up there and never see them again unless you put up fences which the farmer would have to check every day." Lady Lowther added: "A lot of farmers in their fifties and sixties who have been culled out won't go back to farming. They'll probably retire. The ones who are worst off and need the most help are those whose animals survived.

"They've had to feed them all year, and even when the sales start again prices haven't improved." She has campaigned for a public inquiry into the crisis and helped to collect more than 20,000 signatures for a petition presented to Downing Street earlier this week. A judicial review will take place next month which could force one to take place.

She is passionate about farming issues, including proposed changes to the Animal Health Act post foot and mouth which, she says, will give the Government too many powers to cull animals affected by all sorts of diseases such as rabies and bird illnesses. She said: "We wouldn't have any rights at all to protect our animals and this affects every pet owner in the country, not just farmers." She added: "We had a normal, peaceful life before foot and mouth. We were hoping to buy in more farms." Now they could be quitting England or at least taking a long break from what they call the increasing "government control" in the UK. "We're diversifying," she quips.

Her daughter Kerry, 23, has worked as a chef in France and is soon returning to buy a home there, where the Lowthers could stay before finding their own place. As long as no other major farming problems crop up, the couple could leave their estate in the care of a land agent. Lady Lowther said: "We may look for a smallholding which we could retire to later on. But I wouldn't advise anyone to go into farming. We're stuck with it, because what would happen to the land otherwise? "It would just die


A FARMER linked to the export of foot and mouth from Longtown has pledged to trade more animals at the town's mart when it officially opens for business next month. Willie Cleave hit the headlines last February by announcing that the sheep that had innocently taken Virus O to the West Country and beyond had been bought at Longtown Mart 10 days previously.

The friendly Devon dealer was back in town last week for the first live sheep and cattle sale held by Cumberland and Dumfriesshire Farmers' Mart at their Scottish premises. And he said that his experience last February had not put him off trading at Longtown. Mr Cleave, who was known to travel widely throughout Britain at the time of the outbreak, believes his farm was infected through 380 sheep bought at Longtown. They originated from a farm near Heddon-on-the-Wall, Northumberland, thought to be the outbreak source. Speaking from his home near Highampton, Mr Cleave confirmed he had bought 98 lambs and 256 ewes at Longtown. These were later slaughtered and the carcasses taken south.

Asked if he had any fears about trading at Longtown he replied: "No. I will be back to Longtown for their first live sale, hopefully next month, and will continue trading in the Carlisle and southern Scotland area. I'm sure there won't be any problems with this. Dumfries were very friendly and I have no reason to believe Longtown will be any different." Longtown Auction Mart has in the past rebutted claims it was to blame for the spread of foot and mouth disease. It had been suggested that unofficial out-of-the-ring deals between farmers at its weekly sales had made the problem worse. Meanwhile, the foot and mouth outbreak was declared officially over this week with the last county, Northumberland, being declared free.

However, there are still tight movement restrictions in place throughout the country. l Government moves to co-operate with a European Parliament inquiry into the outbreak were today welcomed by Cumbrian farmers' leaders. A Government official said this week that Westminster was ready ''in principle'' to assist a 30-strong committee in its work. The move followed a vote by the European Parliament to set up a temporary committee to look at how the disease was handled and ways to prevent it happening again.

Nick Utting, NFU Group Secretary in Cumbria, said today: "We hope the Government will provide the European Parliament inquiry with whatever evidence and documentation they need for a full and open inquiry." Mr Utting also welcomed the news that restrictions on some British meat exports were to be lifted. European Commission veterinary experts have agreed to lift all the special restrictions and controls in place relating to the export of live pigs, although the ban on exports of live sheep remains for the time being. The committee also decided that exports of cattle from the British mainland to Northern Ireland can resume


THE man hailed as the hero of the foot and mouth outbreak, Brigadier Alex Birtwistle, returns to Cumbria for an important farming conference next Friday. The all-day event at Rheged Discovery Centre, Penrith, aims to find a way forward for farmers in the aftermath of foot and mouth. The speakers include Lord Haskins, the Government's rural recovery co-ordinator, who will discuss how farmers can meet the needs of the market place. Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers' Union, will speak on how farmers can influence prices and maximise returns. Vicki Swales, an agriculture policy lobbyist, will give an environmental perspective. And Steve Ellwood, head of agriculture at HSBC bank, which has organised the event, will look at the prospects for Cumbria's dairy, beef and sheep sectors.

Brigadier Birtwistle is to chair the conference, entitled Back to Business. He came to prominence as Commander of 42 (North West) Brigade when he was called to Cumbria to tackle a huge backlog of slaughtered animals. From a standing start, he and his troops lifted 1.25million animals in three weeks. He was awarded the CBE in the New Year's Honours List for his efforts. The conference has been called in the wake of this week's official announcement that the foot and mouth outbreak is over. Northumberland became the last county in Britain to be declared free of foot and mouth at midnight on Monday.

There were 2,030 confirmed cases and more than four million animals slaughtered in what was the biggest foot and mouth outbreak recorded anywhere in the world. Cumbria bore the brunt of the crisis with 893 cases. Some 1,265,806 animals were slaughtered here - 215,030 cattle, 1,009,951 sheep, 39,862 pigs, 504 goats, 451 deer and eight other unspecified animals. The conference is free, but places are limited. To register, contact HSBC Agriculture on 01228 604101. .


CUMBRIAN hill farmer Peter Allen has been nominated for one of the top posts in the NFU. Mr Allen, who received the MBE in the Queen's New Year's Honours List for his tireless efforts for farmers, has been nominated for the post of treasurer. A paper ballot of NFU Council - the organisation's governing body - will be held to elect office-holders on the last day of the NFU Annual Conference and AGM in London on February 7. Mr Allen was born into the farming industry in Patterdale and now lives in Bampton, near Penrith, with his wife Lindy and teenage son Paul. He also has a daughter, Heather. Also nominated for the post are Michael Lambert from Surrey, the current treasurer, and current NFU Cymru Wales President Hugh Richards.

Ben Gill has been nominated to stand for another two-year term as President of the NFU. Office-holder nominations are accepted from any 20 NFU members or any properly convened NFU regional meeting.

DEFRA chief Beckett finally visits Cumbria

Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett is to visit Cumbria for the first time since she was appointed seven months ago. She is guest speaker at the CBI North West Region's annual dinner at the Castle Green Hotel, Kendal on Monday 4 February 2002. Mrs Beckett, head of DEFRA, has been criticised for not visiting the county sooner.

( Cumberland News)