Ravenstonedale Kirkby Stephen Cumbria

Foot and Mouth 2001

This is my personal account. You may not agree with everything in it. If you want to record your own account, please contact me. I was away on holiday when F&M broke out in February, 2001. We had left our beautiful valley, without even a backwards glance, never expecting that we would return, if not to a valley of death, a valley with a death threat hanging over it for almost a year.

Adamthwaite Road

No welcome mat on the Adamthwaite Road

We live on an 'open fell' road which runs parallel with the main road for about two miles. We rang our neighbours before we returned to check the situation. It seemed that they had had a meeting and decided to lay disinfectant mats at each end of the road by the cattle grids and put notices by the side, requesting that vehicles didn't cross it unless they had to.

We tipped 25 litres of disinfectant on each of the mats twice a day. In all, the disinfectant cost about £600 and we had to bear the brunt of the cost between our dozen or so neighbour and us. I contacted everyone, including our M.P., to try to get money for disinfectant but there was none. You could have free disinfectant if you had F&M but were expected to pay for your own 'Bio Security' if you hadn't.

We finally got £250 towards it from the Rural Recovery fund. We're not used to going, cap in hand to a charity but we were very grateful for it. All I could get out of DEFRA was the fact that it would be irresponsible not to keep up the Bio Security. (How we came to hate that word.)

All the mail was delivered to the one farmhouse on the main road, Sandbed, were we laid another disinfectant mat. Sandbed is about 250 meters from our house, across two fields, but we couldn't walk across the fields.

Fell End Road

Instead, each day I walked along our road where the sheep were grazing freely along the road verges and on the main road where traffic from everywhere was on the road. Yes, I did walk over the mat, but it still seems rather silly that I was walking four miles each day, partly on an open fell with sheep grazing, and I thought that it was safer than driving.

Was it really that I felt I couldn't afford to run the car as I now had no income? We had returned from our holiday with the usual sort of credit card bill that one returns with which shouldn't have been a problem as we had bookings for people on walking holidays. They all canceled and I sent back all their deposits. Who wants to go on a walking holiday when you can't even walk down the road with a clear conscience?

At that time I thought that we would be back in business by June. How wrong I was. It was 28th December when the footpaths reopened and I earned nothing for a whole year. There was grant money floating around for everything except paying the bills. I did manage to acquire some for marketing, which I used it to market Tarmac Walking
(Who says you can't sell fridges to Eskimos?)

I managed to earn enough to pay for the things like our building and vehicle insurance but my income was cut by 90%.
There was no money available from the government. I canceled all our standing orders, including payments into our pension funds and our mortgage so F&M will continue to impact on our financial situation, even when we retire. We weren't alone; almost every working person in Cumbria lost a large percentage of his or her income.

I was just grateful the we didn't have any animals, that we didn't have to do what our farming neighbours had to do each morning: look out of the window at their sheep and wonder if they'd still be there tomorrow.

Strangely, suddenly the sheep all became 'ours' and we all did everything in our power to protect them. The national press tired in vain to get people in tourism to blame the farmers for their loss of income, but it was as if we were all farmers. We talked a lot and our neighbours at Sandbed or 'central control' as it became known, supplied endless cups of coffee to people collecting mail.

What we did, first thing each morning, was switch on Radio Cumbria to listen to the outbreaks confirmed overnight.
Radio Cumbria re-employed Anne Hopper, a former presenter, to keep the county informed on all issues relating to F&M.
She would announce the new cases, many of them on farms she had visited when she presented to afternoon show.

She would then pass on the latest instructions first from MAFF then DEFRA, most of which changed by the minute. There were few heroes of the F&M epidemic but Anne was certainly one of them.

It's easy to forget how life changed for us for that awful year. Believe me, it wasn't only the animals that had F&M,we all had it. I saw neighbours age ten years in ten months. Everyone was tired, drawn faces and swollen eyes. I think I cried every day.

I remember crying myself to sleep the day that Anne announced that Greenriggs Farm, Kirkby Stephen, was a confirmed
case. I imagined the farmers, milking the cows that evening, cows that they had bred for many generations. In the morning they would have to get up and milk them again as they had done all their lives. By the evening there would be none left to milk.

The Coast to Coast Footpath goes through Greenriggs and, many's the time that we've finished a walk in Kirkby Stephen and just been walking though the farmyard as the cows were waiting to be milked. We would often have people in the group who had only ever seen a cow from a distance, so having to squeeze perilously close to both dangerous ends of a couple of dozen cows is something they will never forget.

Greenriggs was the nearest farm to us to be culled. There were no cases of F&M in the Parish as far as I know, although most farmers lost sheep in the 'mass cull' that were away for wintering. When they were running out of other things to do, DEFRA decided to test sheep for F&M and, curiously, they found it in one sheep at Park House. They culled the one sheep but none of the others suffered.

Joyce & Ken Allison, who farmed at Park House, were due to retire in early 2001. They couldn't have a sale or move stock so like everything else, their retirement had to be put on hold. I remember Joyce saying that she didn't expect it all to go smooth, but she hadn't expected anything so drastic that it would cause them to postpone their retirement for almost a year. Joyce and Ken now live in a bungalow near to Greenriggs Farm

House

The only twist the sad tale of Greenriggs is that they bought the dairy herd from Park House when they restocked, so Joyce and Ken now see their cows through the window at their bungalow.

Everything, except the church services, was canceled. No W.I., Young Farmers, Country Dancing. Golden Weddings and 60th Birthday party's were put on hold. The show was canceled, as was every other agricultural show, and many, including Ravenstonedale was canceled for two years, as there was still restriction on animal movements a year later. The pubs were quiet. No one had much money and most farmers didn't come off their farms unless they had too. The roads were quiet and Kirkby Stephen was like a ghost town.

Fell End

On the 26th December, about thirty people gathered together in Fell End, including our Vicar, Tony Dalton with this wife Jo and son Michael. Tony had been appointed Vicar of the United Benefice of Orton, Tebay and Ravenstonedale, almost on the same day that F&M broke out and it was the first time that he had been to Fell End.

We walked up to Fell End Clouds, taking with us various flasks of 'tipple' to celebrate the reopening of the fells and footpaths. We were actually trespassing as we were two days early but we really didn't care by then.

We are older and wiser. I am convinced that the whole thing could have been over in 48 hours with vaccination and that all the horror and the heartbreak was for nothing.

I'm not a political animal, but Tony Blair ordered MAFF to vaccinate in the April, and Ben Gill said 'No'. It makes you wonder who is running the country.