The countryside is holding its breath. We are living in the shadow of death and destruction that is Foot and Mouth Disease. We are all praying that this weekend's outbreak will be confined to the small corner of England where Derrick Pride farms - the small corner which is also home to the animal diseases centres at Pirbright.
Just did an interview for Good Morning Wales on the issue - on the telephone from Kew, which is quite near to the outbreak. In Wales, at present there is a focus on the impact and cost of the restrictions which have been imposed. I accept that this is an issue, but its not the main one. These costs and inconveniences are as nothing compared with what will happen if we have a new case confirmed today in Cumbria, or Devon, or Wales. Because the sheer horror of what happened in 2001 is still so fresh in our minds, we all know that the Government is doing what must be done. In 2001, I lambasted the Government for its incompetence from Day 1. This time, I have no complaints - so far. Clearly, lessons have been learnt since the incredible and shameful bungling that occurred then.
All fingers seem to be pointing in the direction of the Institute of Animal Health and the Merial Research Centre at Pirbright, just a short distance away from Derrick Pride's now silent acres. The coincidences are almost irresistable. As shocking as it would be to discover that Pirbright was the source of the infection, it is now every country lover's hope that it turns out to be so. And that there have been no movements from the farm which might have carried the infection elsewhere.
I have lived through two previous outbreaks of FMD that ran out of control. The first was in 1967, which began about 15 miles from our family farm, and 2001, where every animal on all the farms surrounding Cil Farm, our home, were slaughtered. I will never forget sitting out in the garden hearing rifle shooting and watching plumes of smoke marking the site of every farm between me and the horizon. And I remember the silence that followed - all summer. No cattle or sheep. Just an eerie silence for months on end. I learned a lot about birdsong in 2001. Our problems arose from not having any animals at Cil Farm - which would have been culled. We had all the animals on another farm when the disease struck in the spring, just prior to moving everything out to outlying land. So we had animals where there was not enough grass, and grass going to waste everywhere else. In financial terms, we were badly hit - but I didn't have to suffer the trauma of seeing all our livestock slaughtered. For weeks, I lived with the diseae as all sorts of people telephoned looking for help and advice - and sometimes just to talk. It was a terrible experience.
The countryside is holding its breath and hoping that we are not going to see a repeat.