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Foot-and-mouth 20 Years On: Rural tourism bounces back

As the foot-and-mouth epidemic rampaged throughout Britain, the large-scale shutdown of the countryside saw tourism become a major causality, losing an estimated £4.5-£5.4 billion.

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Foot-and-mouth 20 Years On: Rural tourism bounces back

Local councils were urged to close all rural footpaths and rights of way as then NFU president, Sir Ben Gill, implored the public to ‘stay away from the countryside’.

 

Lisa Preston, Farm Stay UK regional director for Yorkshire, Cheshire and Lancashire, remembers the eeriness of having nobody on the farm’s footpaths for months and the severe impact it had on the rural economy’s domestic and overseas visitors for almost a year.

 

She added every farm, every family and every cottage or B&B has a story or legacy, but this was wiped out by foot-and-mouth.

 

Ms Preston said: “Tourism did bounce back as soon as restrictions were lifted and guests were itching to get back to the serenity of a country cottage and the freedom of walking on footpaths.


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“But the recovery was the hard part because while it had to be done quickly, it is not easy to put on a smile and chat to guests when not long ago you watched your entire flock be rounded up and shot.

 

“It also took a lot of work to convince the public it was safe to come back to the countryside.”

 

But foot-and-mouth may have helped sow the seeds of today’s booming agritourism industry, making farmers look beyond purely farm-driven commerce.

 

“We all know farm incomes have dropped dramatically and it is not a new idea that someone leaves the farm to go and work elsewhere for the day,” Ms Preston said.

 

“It is easy to see how an ex-dairy or redundant sheep shed can be visualised into an income stream.

 

"One of the main factors in rebooting agritourism after foot-and-mouth was the grant schemes.

 

“While the initial Government response was poor, a recovery plan was eventually put into place which saw public funds retargeted towards environmental and rural development.

 

“Farm businesses were encouraged to diversify any way they could in a bid to reconnect consumers with the countryside.”

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