Can Exmoor survive?

Western Daily Press 18 May 2001

TOURISM businesses on Exmoor are bracing themselves for a whole year’s takings being wiped out by foot-and-mouth.

The latest outbreak in Knowstone, just outside the moor’s southern boundary, has now put a sizeable chunk of the national park under restrictions.

And with continuing uncertainty over how long foot-and-mouth will last, any would-be tourists who were waiting to see whether life would return to normal have now booked their summer holidays elsewhere.

The crisis does not stop there: There are now fears over the shooting season which starts in September and normally attracts thousands of tourists to the moor.

Some shoots are reluctant to invest heavily in putting down pheasants when there is still the possibility the countryside will be out of bounds by the autumn.

And although business is starting to pick up in some coastal resorts, in the heart of the moor the first visitors have still to appear.

At Tarr Steps Farm, on the banks of the River Barle next to a picturesque 5,000-year-old stone clapper bridge, Richard and Judy Carless would normally expect to be busy in their tea room and restaurant by now.

This year they haven’t sold so much as a cup of coffee during the day for 11 weeks — since foot-and-mouth first led to moorland being placed out of bounds.

Exmoor national park authority has rushed out a series of leaflets promoting walks along country lanes around the major villages. And, if Somerset county council approves the plan, next week it will reopen some favourite walking country in the north of the park, including North Hill at Minehead, and Grabbist and Croydon Hills near Dunster.

But that represents only a fraction of the high-quality walking country which makes Exmoor such a magnet for ramblers, and the majority of its 1,000 kilometres of footpaths will remain closed.

Richard Carless says he is now resigned to this year being written off: "I am not anticipating taking any money until next Easter," he says. "But we cannot do it from our own resources. All we can do is hope there will be some compensation for people like us who have been affected indirectly by foot-and-mouth."

The Government has made 250,000 available in short-term aid to local business, though that will hardly make a dent in the 10 million losses Exmoor is expecting.