TEN YEARS ON: The horrific cost of foot and mouth disease

Crisis in the countryside. Pig farmer now in the tourism industry.

TEN years ago British agriculture was facing its biggest crisis in more than three decades.

But, as foot and mouth disease swept the country, farming was not the only economic casualty.

Tourism was also badly hit and, unlike farms where cattle had to be slaughtered, those businesses could not claim compensation.

In East Devon great pyres burned for days and popular tourist attractions were forced to close their doors; caught up in exclusion zones and restrictions on the movement of livestock.

For one, Farway Countryside Park, the crisis signalled the beginning of the end. The family-run park struggled to recover from the effects of the crisis and eventually closed.

But, for pig farmer Robert Persey, of Broadhembury, it was the beginning of a new venture - into the tourism industry.

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Recalling the dark days of the crisis, he said: “We had a pig farm at Witheridge, which supplied our home farm at Broadhembury with store pigs.

“When foot and mouth disease arrived, we could not move pigs on and there was a tremendous welfare issue - because the pigs continued to grow and overcrowd their pens, resulting in appalling welfare conditions.

“Foot and mouth disease arrived next door to the pig farm at Witheridge, but because there was no disposal room for the 3,000 pigs they were not slaughtered and the welfare conditions became unbearable.”

Mr Persey was so incensed by the situation that he threatened to take matters into his own hands.

He didn’t mince his words when he contacted the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF).

“MAFF eventually agreed to slaughter the pigs after I informed them that I would be opening the doors and letting the pigs go walkabout,” said Mr Persey.

He went on to become a lead claimant at the High Court, seeking a judicial review of the government’s decision not to hold a public inquiry.

“Foot and mouth disease was the trigger that made us close down our pig unit, which was producing 15,000 bacon pigs a year,” Mr Persey told The Midweek Herald.

“We have now created a five star self-catering complex at Hembury Court, which specialises in taking ladies’ groups for weekends.”

Visit www.henpartylocation.co.uk to find out more about Mr Persey’s business.