Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Doubt Is Cast on Blair's 'Visit Countryside' Appeal

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Doubt Is Cast on Blair's 'Visit Countryside' Appeal

Article excerpt

Byline: CHARLES REISS;LUKE LEITCH

TONY BLAIR today delivered an urgent appeal to the public to return to the countryside - amid continuing doubt and confusion over the risks involved.

The Prime Minister, in a speech in London, said tourism was suffering a "tragic" collapse even in areas unaffected by foot-and-mouth. He urged visitors to go to the countryside and for overseas tourists, threatening to call off their trips, to be told that "Britain remains open for business".

"The message is clear: go to visit the countryside but stay off farmland.

And local authorities should take a commonsense view on restrictions," he told the British Chambers of Commerce.

But his message was greeted with extreme caution by those involved in fighting the epidemic.

Essex farmer Gerald Ketley, who is waiting to see if his stock remains uninfected, said: "Visitors want to go walking in the fens and the hills: how in the hell can you say the countryside is open when they shouldn't be doing that?"

Cambridgeshire farmer and former presenter of One Man And His Dog, Robin Page, said Mr Blair's comments were "totally irresponsible". He said tourists, however well-intentioned, could act as carriers.

Anthony Bosanquet, president of the Country Land and Business Association, whose members own and operate 60per cent of land in England and Wales, said: "We agree that rural businesses are suffering desperately.

However, it is imperative the advice is crystal clear and people are told they must observe no-entry signs."

And Countryside Alliance president Baroness Mallalieu said: "It is all very well telling people they can go shopping or eat out if they go to the countryside and not go walking, but if you want to go shopping, why not stay in town? And the English countryside is not exactly a gastronomic centre."

It has also emerged that relations between Downing Street and Nick Brown's Ministry of Agriculture (Maff) are at a new low. …

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