Just returned home after 4 days in London to find 25 members of Brooks Gardening Club strolling around the garden. I'd put the visit in my diary for September! Mrs D not happy. But the Yuccas and the hot border were in such pomp that I was not as displeased as I might have been. The hemerocallis, crocosmias and heleniums are 'on fire' at the moment. Today, we had been to the RHS garden at Wisley, which apart from being the most interesting garden I ever visit, is only a mile or so from the Foot and Mouth outbreak in Surrey.
So where are we on the FMD outbreak. First thing to be said is that the politicians have done well so far. Gordon Brown has looked like a Prime Minister, David Cameron has made it clear that he's going to hold Brown to account for his performance, and Elin Jones has cut short her holiday to New Zealand to be around if she's needed. But there's a bit to go on this yet.
Not so much the outbreak itself, which I'm still hopeful will be confined to a small number of farms in one small area of Surrey - although it will be a few days until we can breathe easily in our beds. Its who's to blame - and who will pick up the bill that is most interesting. From the first, it looked a 'strong probability' that the virus had come out of Pirbright, either Merial or the Institute of Animal Health. This looked 'good news' to me because it seemed much more likely to be controllable. But for a Government agency to be responsible for an outbreak of FMD is very shocking and really beggars belief. No-one is going to admit a thing unless they are forced to - and compensation claims are likely to fail on circumstantial evidence. Today's report from the Health and Safety Executive told us nothing we didn't know already. I hope they can do better tomorrow.
But two things have surprised me. Why on earth were footpaths in and around the outbreak area left open until today? - opening the door for the blame to be transferred to the Government if the disease spreads. And why were the carcases taken some 80 miles out of the area for disposal - for the same reason. I know that people don't like seeing funeral pyres - but controlling the virus should be absolute priority. I hope that public relations wasn't taking over from scientific considerations.
I read that there have been some relaxations in Scotland already and that animals can be taken direct to the abattoir. This seems common sense to me, and I hope we can start making similar relaxations in Wales tomorrow - or at least as soon as possible. The last time there was an outbreak of FMD in 2001, I knew there was a disaster pending from Day 1. This time, I've felt less worried - mainly because of the link with Pirbright and that it was found in a dairy herd (now 2) which do not have much stock movement. In Febuary, 2001, FMD took over my life. Today, it did feel odd to be so close to the outbreak, limited to mixing my concern of potential disaster for my industry with appreciation of the wonders of Wisley.