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Ramblers Association: "bird flu must not close countryside"

[Tuesday 11 April 2006]

Bird flu must not disrupt access to the countryside - that's the message from the Ramblers' Association, in the wake of the first case of the H5N1 virus found in Scotland.

The national walking charity warned the government in 2002 at the Lessons Learned Inquiry, following the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, that the blanket closure of footpaths in the countryside should never happen again.

Walkers group insists on no repeat of closures seen during FMD outbreak
Walkers group insists on no repeat of closures
seen during FMD outbreak

The Association says it accepts that, following individual risk assessments, closing footpaths and public access may be necessary in some cases to reduce the risk of infection spreading.

It was stressed however, that the organisation does not support closures on the scale of the last animal disease outbreak, which had catastrophic consequences for the rural economy.

Over 500 million walking trips to the English countryside are made each year, with walkers spending over £6 billion and sustaining 185,000 to 254,000 full-time jobs. Walking is a draw for overseas visitors too. They make over 1 million trips into the English countryside annually, boosting the rural economy by £355 billion.

Jacquetta Fewster, director of campaigns at the Ramblers Association, said: "The government response so far shows that lessons have been learned from the foot and mouth outbreak which is reassuring.

"The blanket closure of the countryside then had a devastating impact on the rural economy and we don't want this to happen again.

"It's vitally important that people continue to visit the countryside and support rural businesses."

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