Ewen Cameron, chairman of the Countryside Agency, said: 'Foot and mouth disease has had a profound impact on rural areas, created distress and difficulty for many, threatening livelihoods and the very fabric of rural life.'
'In the areas hardest hit, such as Cumbria, Devon, parts of Herefordshire, North Yorkshire and the North East, it's a double blow - agriculture was already in recession and many households depended on rural tourism and its suppliers for jobs and income.
'The report shows that the impact on the national economy is estimated at some£4bn, which is rather less than original forecasts. Mr Cameron said: 'Much of that national loss was due to a fall in overseas visitors that has hit the cities, but in turn the British people have switched their spending towards urban and seaside breaks, the High St and DIY. This has meant that the economic impact on the countryside is disproportionately large, and concentrated in areas where average incomes were low and business vitality already suffering.
'This crisis has underlined the vulnerability of rural economies - how closely related agriculture is to rural tourism and tourism is to the provision of local services. We call for:
* sustained action to ensure that the level of rural visitors and the income they bring to the countryside is maintained to next spring
* more urgent implementation of rural diversification and help with training, so that more economic value can be added to farm and countryside products
* acceleration of the Rural White Paper measures designed to secure rural services standards and healthy communities, especially in the hardest hit areas
* in the longer term, a fundamental shift towards sustainable land management encouraged by a reformed common agricultural policy.
Mr Cameron said: 'The public can also help by understanding that they are more than welcome in the countryside. Their custom is vital to boost rural businesses to help sustain them through the winter months when interest payments will be harder to meet. By choosing farm products, especially from the areas worst affected, they can 'eat the view' and help sustain rural communities.
'Today's report sets out the facts we do know, to inform the debate and help the various reviews into foot and mouth now getting under way The epidemic has been so severe that we have revisited the findings of our State of the Countryside Report 2001 and updated them to examine the wide range of impacts that extend well beyond the farming community and related businesses. Although the disease has yet to run its course, and there is still some resurgence, the time is right to think and plan ahead.'
The report Foot and Mouth Disease: the state of the countryside is available on our websiteor from Countryside Agency Publications, PO Box 125, Wetherby, West Yorkshire LS23 7EP Tel 0870 120 6466 Ref: CAX 63 price£2. The findings of this report will be revisited in future national and regional 'State of the Countryside' reports.
The report is a supplement to our State of the Countryside Report 2001 (CA61) and was prepared by the Countryside Agency, with guidance from a panel of advisers and a major review of the impacts of foot and mouth by DTZ Pieda.
The Countryside Agency is responsible for advising government and taking action on issues relating to the social, economic and environmental well-being of the English countryside.