Rural affairs minister Jonathan Shaw has publicly apologised to horse owners and other residents in Elstead, Surrey, for the lack of information for those affected by the foot-and-mouth (FMD) outbreak.
At a meeting in Elstead last Friday (10 August) organised by local MP Jeremy Hunt, 200 local residents aired concerns at the confusion over restrictions for horses.
“The sheer number of local people who turned up shows how concerned they are,” said Mr Hunt, who has asked DEFRA for more clarification on restrictions.
Elstead livery yard owner Jason Ingold was at the meeting.
“The general consensus is that what information was made available was incorrect or late,” he said. “I know DEFRA has been very good during the outbreak, but there hasn’t been enough information for horse owners and it’s made people angry.”
Last week, DEFRA said information packs were being distributed within the protection zone (PZ) and surveillance zone (SZ), and that horse owners were being reached via Passport Issuing Organisations (PIO) and local and national media.
But very little appears yet to have filtered through. Many owners have contacted H&H and the British Horse Society (BHS), which has reported a “steady stream of calls” to its offices. People have been asking how to obtain movement licences, whether it is legal to transport horses through the PZ, and about the rules on hacking.
BHS director of access, welfare and safety Mark Weston told H&H: “If there were another outbreak, we’d like to see DEFRA provide more specific information for riders because the equestrian community does co-exist with the agricultural sector and we’d like to support farmers.”
The British Equestrian Federation (BEF) has been relaying information via its website and updating its member bodies.
“The problem is that the majority of people don’t know who to look to for help in these cases,” said a BEF spokesman. “We’ll be having a debrief afterwards to look at what was done and how it can be done better in future.”
As H&H went to press on Monday, though it was still early days, farmers in Surrey were hoping the FMD outbreak was contained. No new cases have been reported for nearly a week.
A DEFRA spokesman said it was too early to predict when and how restrictions would be lifted, but that more information for horse owners around the UK would be put on its website (www.defra.gov.uk).
“We have been doing our best to get the message out, but it’s happened so quickly maybe things took longer than expected,” she said. “We had a website full of information and DEFRA has been working 24/7 on this.”
This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (16 August, ’07)