The region's farmers reflect on the foot and mouth crisis

  • Video report by Tim Backshall

ITV Border is marking the 20th anniversary of the foot and mouth epidemic that hit this region so badly.

Reporter Tim Backshall, who reported on the crisis in 2001, has been back to visit two high profile farmers on either side of the border who became involved in the fight to try to stop the spread. 

Les Armstrong, from Cumbria, spoke for so many when he told us of the impact of foot and mouth on his farm near Kirkoswald. 

The fields at his farm lay empty for months after the cattle and sheep had been slaughtered. 

Les Armstrong's farm became infected in March - just one of hundreds to be hit across the county.  Credit: ITV News

Two decades on his farm has fully recovered but the memories are still fresh in his mind. 

Reflecting on that time, he said: "We'd seen it in other parts of the country but it was still a big shock when it appeared at Blunderfield because we'd no reason to suspect it coming here and we didn't know where it had come from. Viruses do that, it's just like flu, some get it and some don't."  

His farm became infected in March - just one of hundreds to be hit across the county. 

After the early cases of foot and mouth the disease spread like wildfire across Cumbria during the spring and summer. By the end there had been 893 separate outbreaks, the highest of anywhere in the UK.

Robin Spence lost his herd during the epidemic. Credit: ITV News

Parts of southern Scotland were also badly affected. 40-miles north, Robin Spence's farm near Lockerbie also went down with foot and mouth, destroying the cattle herd his family had built up over many decades. 

He told ITV Border: "We were sort of prepared because we were convinced it was coming and thought we had it but we had generations of breeding in the dairy herd.

"It was the dairy herd my father had started after he was wiped out with foot and mouth in 1952." 

Both farmers were both prominent members of the National Farmers' Union and from the outset were involved in the wider fight to get on top of the disease - speaking to officials and government ministers.  

Les said: "There was an awful lot of misunderstanding at that time and fortunately because I had a prominent position in the NFU.

"I created the media's interest and the politicians took notice because of that and so we were able to, I don't know about influence things, but put the argument across very well." 

Credit: ITV News

Twenty years on both have rebuilt their businesses and see some opportunities from such a dark time. 

The shed that housed Les's slaughtered animals is now full of new life, with the latest calves born on the farm. 

"It was extremely difficult. We live to farm and then all of a sudden the farm was dead but I think at the same time Tim I also said to you on the roadside there we'll get over this and we'll bounce back and we'll go again just as hard and we have done.

"If I'm honest I'm really pleased with the way we've gone in the last 20 years and I might add that I'm really positive about the next 20 as well even though I won't see them all."