||On 19 February 2001, a suspected case of foot and mouth disease was discovered at an abattoir in Essex in south-eastEngland. The following day the case was confirmed by the Ministry ofAgriculture, Fisheries and Food(MAFF), signalling not only the first major outbreak of the disease in Britain since 1967, but also the onset of one of the most serious economic and social crises to face rural communities in recent years. Indeed, despite government assurances as early as 12 March that the outbreak was under control, it was not until the end of that month that
the daily number of new cases peaked and, even by mid-May, a small number of new case swere being confirmed each day. By that stage, 1593 cases of the disease had been confirmed although, as a direct result of the government’s policy,
announced on 24 March, to cull all livestock within a three kilometre radius of infected farms, a further 6014 farms and other premises were affected(www.sheepdrove.com). Altogether, 2,657,000 animals had been slaughtered
and a further 75,000 were due to be slaughtered, whilst 40,000 carcasses were awaiting disposal. It is likely that the final total of animals slaughtered as a result
of the crisis will bewell in excess of 3 million, representing over 6%of the national livestock herd.
Inevitably, the outbreak of foot andmouth has had, and will continue to have, serious and far-reaching consequences for an agricultural sector already enduring significant economic hardship. Farm incomes in 2000 were, at an average of £7800 per capita, already at their lowest level in 25 years (Countryside Agency, 2001)and, although compensation will be paid for the loss of all slaughtered livestock,
it has been estimated that those farms directly affected by the crisis will collectively face further losses of £84 million as a result of potentially higher restocking costs, wages, and other costs incurred during the quarantine period
(Midmore, 2001). Therefore, it is likely that a significant number of farmers will either retire (the average age of farmers in Britain is 57) or seek alternative livelihoods whilst others, supported by government subsidy,mayembrace a new role as ‘keepers’, as opposed to exploiters, of the rural environment. That is, they may become involved in environmental management or conservation programmes,
in particular in the more fragile, peripheral rural regions. In short, many rural areas will undergo fundamental socioeconomic restructuring once the initial
efforts to eradicate the disease have been successful.
It is not only the farming industry, however, that has suffered as a result of the foot andmouth outbreak. Certainly, the social and economic impacts on farmers
have been enormous but, in financial terms alone, the costs of the crisis to the wider economy have been far greater than those borne by the farming sector. In particular, the tourismindustry has endured a huge downturn in business, with estimates of losses ranging from £140 million to £500 million a week