How the farming industry and others rebuilt after the foot and mouth outbreak

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

Our reporter Tim Backshall has been hearing about the impact on the farming and tourism industries. 

This report looks at the rebuilding work after foot and mouth and how different people got back on their feet.

At Abbott Lodge farm near Penrith, the very latest methods of robotic milking are used. No people are needed in the process. It is just one innovation made here in the last few years. 

But the biggest change to life on this farm came after its dairy herd went down with foot and mouth twenty years ago. 

Claire Bland, who runs the farm with her husband Steven, said: "Probably one of the darkest days yes. It was a very sad time.

It was very hard to be farming - it's all about the animals and when there are no animals the whole farm is an empty, eerie space.

Claire Bland, Abbott Lodge farm
Credit: ITV News

Claire and Steven decided to re-stock with Jersey cows and came up with the idea of making and selling ice cream on the farm at Melkinthorpe.

She said: "There was a bit of a lightbulb moment and I thought: 'well yes I need to diversify, farming isn't doing enough, we need to do something and I either work full-time off the farm or I do something on the farm' and ice cream was the solution." 

The farm has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Lake District and has just welcomed its two thousandth calf since foot and mouth.  

Abbott Lodge is an example of the many that tried to diversify after foot and mouth. Of course, some weren't able to change direction but a number did go to great lengths to rebuild.

At his farm at Gretna Green, Alasdair Houston also lost all his animals - his emotions at that time recorded in a diary. 

"I feel an almost physical sensation of a noose tightenening as I receive a telephone call from the Serad office in Dumfries ...." 

That call told him that a neighbouring farm had foot and mouth and eventually his animals - including pedigree cattle bred over decades - had to be culled. 

That determination led him to rebuild his cattle herd using frozen embryos and a very time consuming process of tracking down blood lines.

He said: "Hours and hours over days and weeks because it was before all of the pedigrees were held on a little smartphone and you could do your research that way.

"It was all pieces of paper all around the house tracking and recreating family trees in other people's herds, tracking down genetics that had performed well." 

Credit: ITV News

The result is a pedigree herd today, recreated after foot and mouth. 

Another idea that Alasdair has been involved with is the hope for the creation of a giant sculpture called the Star of Caledonia on the Scotland/England border as a sign of the region's recovery from foot and mouth. It would be on Alasdair's land and is still being planned. 

But amid all the success there is another side. Brian Armstrong, in the Eden Valley has turned much of his attention to helping those who struggled mentally during foot and mouth. 

He said: "I felt it would be good to sit on the phone and talk to people."

Farmers have had mixed fortunes over the last twenty years. But there are many inspiring stories of just how much the industry has been able to adapt and bounce back.