Silence at Ramscliffe. Foot and Mouth in Devon

Foreword by Carol Trewin

The spring and summer of 2001 were terrible times for British farmers. Across the whole country, but more particularly in Devon, Cumbria, Dumfries and Galloway, the terror and emotional turmoil of the worst outbreak of animal disease in living memory changed lives for ever. Even though there was no risk to human health - unlike BSE, which has to date claimed just over 180,000 cattle lives and posed potential threats to humans - the foot and mouth epidemic led to the destruction, most quite unnecessarily, of millions of pigs, cattle sheep, goats, lambs, calves and piglets, and had a profound impact on farming and hundreds of other rural businesses. The events of that spring were also the first real test of Tony Blair's government, four years after his first election victory. Faced with an imminent election, driven by his personal desire to make his mark in British political history by winning a second consecutive term for Labour, Blair personally took control of the crisis. He failed that test, as this book painfully illustrates. This record of those events of 2001 is an important document. While for many of those affected the memories are still too painful to recall, it is important for the rest of us to understand that this was a series of events largely outside the control of most of the farming industry. Foot and mouth disease swooped down on British farms largely out of the blue, unseen until it was too late, and extended its devastating grip to more than 2,000 farms. It cannot be argued that British agriculture was totally blameless, but until the disease appeared it could be argued that too many officials who should have known better were looking the wrong way. Farmers, and other rural businesses, ended up the political pawns in a much bigger game played by politicians, food manufacturers, vets and scientists. Silence at Ramscliffe offers an alternative view of what really happened, a fresh insight and a better understanding of the irrevocable, long-term effects that this epidemic had on Britain's countryside. This is a poignant record that will survive long after all the official reports have been buried in dusty, Whitehall archives.

© Carol Trewin, Horrabridge, Devon. April 2005

 

Carol Trewin (1953 - 2009) worked for BBC Radio 4's Food Programme and Woman's Hour, the BBC World Service and was editor of Radio 4's Farming Today. Other food, farming and environmental programmes include On Your Farm, Costing the Earth, Walston Goes Walkabout and Over the Counter. Carol was farming editor of the Western Morning News and later joined Taste of the West to set up and run a £3 million food and drink project in Cornwall and wrote on food, farming and the countryside for many publications, including Food Illustrated, The Field, British Farmer and Grower, Inside Cornwall and Devon Today. In 1999 Carol was elected an associate of the Royal Agricultural Societies.

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