TEN YEARS ON: Farmer at the heart of crisis

Philip Skinner doesn’t want to see a repeat of the foot and mouth crisis in his lifetime.

EAST Devon farmer Philip Skinner found himself at the heart of the foot and mouth outbreak.

A lamb buyer by trade, he was one of those who unwittingly transported contaminated sheep into Devon.

“We were at the sharp end,” he remembers.

“The Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) came to us with no conception of how to deal with it.

“We had to read the rule book as we went along; it was new to everyone.”

At the time, Mr Skinner, of Talaton, and his business partners were storing lambs purchased from all over the UK at satellite farms in east and mid Devon.

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They were being fattened up, ready for the table.

“Unfortunately, we, potentially, had foot and mouth over a wide area,” he said.

“We had to kill all the sheep on five farms, which were then transported to Greendale Barton, at Woodbury Salterton, where, with the help of MAFF, we built a pyre.

“We lit the first pyre in Devon.”

Mr Skinner and his business partner went on to become MAFF contractors, overseeing the slaughter and burning of cattle, pigs and sheep from across the county.

It was a traumatic time and Mr Skinner says he will never forget the scenes of the pyres.

However, he is still a farmer and says he will continue to buy livestock for slaughterhouses.

“The consequences of foot and mouth disease were devastating for many, many people,” he said.

“Losing stock, for some people, was like losing a family friend.

“It is a disease I hope I never see again in my lifetime.”