The spectre of a British countryside out-of-bounds returned again today with the news that foot-and-mouth disease has been confirmed in cattle at a farm near Guildford in Surrey.

Already, animal movements across Britain have been banned; the gathering of animals is restricted, as is dipping and shearing and all farms have been ordered to increase their biosecurity. During the last outbreak of the disease in 2001, the whole of the country’s network of paths and bridleways was closed and the rural economy, which now relies more heavily on tourism and visitors than farming, lost billions of pounds.

Among the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) advice to farmers on biosecurity are:

  • Have disinfectant and cleaning materials at farm entrances for visitors
  • Wash clothes after visiting livestock or places where they are kept
  • Disinfect all vehicles going in and out of farms
  • Avoid visiting other farms
  • Footpaths may be closed in areas where there is a greater risk of spreading the disease

Defra issued a statement today on the discovery of the virus: “On the basis of the initial laboratory results Debby Reynolds, UK Chief Veterinary Officer has confirmed foot-and-mouth disease.

“In accordance with the legislation and contingency planning arrangements all the cattle on the premises will be culled. A protection zone of three kilometres radius and a surveillance zone of ten kilometres has been placed around the premises, and a GB-wide national movement ban of all ruminants and pigs has been imposed.”

The Government was subject to widespread criticism during the 2001 outbreak over the way the former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and its successor Defra closed footpaths across the country, burned animal carcasses on huge open pyres and caused massive damage to the outdoor and tourist industries in Britain, from which they are still recovering.

Government scientists will try to ascertain the origin of the virus, but one difference in the handling is the immediate banning of animals movements across Britain.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown will cut short his Dorset holiday to return to Whitehall tomorrow. Environment Minister Hilary Benn will also return from his holiday in Italy.