Colleges protect livestock in crisis

March 9, 2001

The foot and mouth disease crisis has brought disruption to universities and colleges across the United Kingdom.

Some research programmes may be put back by six months or more as institutions take steps to restrict access to their farms and agricultural facilities.

Field trips have been cancelled, affecting teaching in a wide range of subjects including surveying, history, archaeology, biology and geography, as well as environmental and rural studies.

Some universities have advised staff and students not to go home at the weekend, and most have cancelled sporting fixtures.

Institutions with farms and livestock have warned that staff jobs and multimillion-pound research projects are at risk if just one animal catches the disease.

The University of Wales, Aberystwyth, which has seven farms with 3,500 sheep and 500 cattle, has banned all farm activities and field trips. Director of rural studies Will Haresign, said: "We have about £1.25 million of ongoing research. It would take ten years to get back to where we are now if we lost our livestock."

Martin Seabrook, farms director at Nottingham University, said research programmes were already affected, even though no animals had been struck down. "Research involving feed trials, for instance, is being held up. Some researchers' work will be put back by six months or more."

The University of Reading has closed access to its three farms, which have 1,000 sheep, 150 cattle and one of the biggest dairy research facilities in the UK.

Richard Ellis, head of the department of agriculture, said: "We have had to stop project work for our environment and agriculture students. But we have also tried to lock down activities and movement of staff and students... The livelihood of staff is at risk."

Sparsholt College, near Winchester, has suspended all teaching apart from its horticulture courses to minimise the risk to its animal herds.

The Scottish Agricultural College has suspended teaching until after Easter at its Aberdeen and Ayrshire campuses, which have farms. A spokeswoman said continuing teaching posed "unacceptable risks" to the college's animals and those owned by families of many students.

Teaching is continuing at the SAC's Edinburgh campus, but visits to farms have been cancelled, and students who travel from farms with livestock have been urged to find alternative accommodation.

The spokeswoman said student hardship was likely to increase because students would be unable to work on farms during the vacation for the lambing season.

A number of the college's veterinary scientists are working as volunteers to help government vets contain the outbreak.

* The Geological Society has called for a ban on all field trips that visit agricultural or open land for at least two or three weeks. It has also asked its members to ensure all equipment, including boots, are thoroughly sterilised before they leave the UK.

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