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Countryside is not out of bounds, explains Meacher.

The countryside 'is not out of bounds' for visitors, but they should behave responsibly during the foot-and-mouth crisis, Environment Minister Michael Meacher said yesterday.

He warned people to stay away from farm animals.

Mr Meacher's message was intended to end the confusion over access to rural areas, and came after a meeting of the Rural Task Force at the London headquarters of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

The Minister, who chairs the group set up by the Prime Minister on Tuesday, has been urgently reviewing existing advice because tourists and potential holidaymakers, worried that they might help spread the virus, have been avoiding the countryside.

Hotels, bed and breakfasts and attractions have all been hit by the stayaway.

Mr Meacher told a news conference: 'The countryside is not out of bounds.

'There are lots of places you can visit and things you can do, but you have to behave responsibly and you must stay away from farm animals and obey all local restrictions.'

Mr Meacher admitted there had been confusion about what the public can and cannot do in the countryside, but said there were still many places they could visit, including garden centres, markets, historic buildings, hotels, pubs and seaside towns.

'You can shop and go for a meal, you can visit a market town or historic village,' added Mr Meacher who today visits the Midlands to hear at first hand the experiences of residents.

'The message is clear, people in rural areas want you to visit the countryside and its attractions, so long as you behave responsibly and follow the rules,' he said.

Mr Meacher said most footpaths were still closed and the task force was urgently reviewing which ones could quickly and safely be opened.

'I am meeting with local authorities and MAFF to discuss how we can progress this on Monday.

'But in the meantime, this weekend it is perfectly safe to drive, or walk or cycle down a tarred road.

'If you are in any doubt, check with the tourist information centres or hoteliers or organisers of events.

'Information is also available of a more detailed kind on the DETR, Countryside Agency, and MAFF websites and this is a changing situation. We will be updating this information regularly.'

To help people find out where they can go in rural areas without risk of passing on the virus, the Countryside Agency launched on its website new maps and information on a county by county basis.

The chairman of the Countryside Agency, Ewen Cameron, said: 'The dramatic drop in visitors to the countryside is affecting businesses throughout rural areas irrespective of whether foot-and-mouth is located nearby.

'This week we have called for visitors to the countryside to think twice about not coming. To help make that decision they need clear advice and we support efforts by the Government's new rural task force to set out clear guidance to the public.

'It is vital that people support the campaign to get rid of this dreadful disease and do not use footpaths that are closed, or go anywhere near livestock or farmland that has been used by farm animals in the infected areas.

'But it is equally crucial to many rural economies that people do not avoid other heritage attractions, parks, country towns, villages and seaside resorts - nor local restaurants, pubs and cafes or shops and markets well away from foot-and-mouth.'

English Heritage said 85 of the 409 historic sites which it manages are open while 201 sites in rural areas are closed as a precaution against the disease.

The remaining 123 sites are normally closed at this time of year and it is hoped to open many of these as planned on April 1.

The National Trust said about 20 of its properties remain open.

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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 17, 2001
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