Foot-and-mouth crisis in Scotland

The first farmer in Scotland to lose his flock in the foot-and-mouth outbreak of 2001 reflects on the experience.

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Mike Orr is the first to admit it seems like a strange thing to have done.

When the foot-and-mouth cull reached his farm in the Ettrick Valley in the Scottish Borders in 2001, he shot eight rolls of film as the grim events unfolded.

He got them developed, took a look, and then put them away in a box.

It would be six or seven years before he cast his eyes over them again - and the emotions of that fateful time returned immediately.

"It is very close when you look at them, you can feel exactly what you were feeling on that day," he said.

Mr Orr was the first farmer in the Scottish Borders to lose his flock of about 1,400 sheep as attempts to stop the spread of the disease took their drastic course.

However, he still believes there was little alternative.

"At the time we thought it was the right thing to do and we still think it was the right thing to do," he said.

"We were absolutely convinced that if there was any risk at all that our sheep might have been infected then we didn't have any choice.

Start Quote

Looking back it was really quite a surreal day when you think of what we actually had to do that day to get the job done”

End Quote Mike Orr

"We felt very strongly that it had to be done."

His acceptance of the necessity of the cull did not make it any easier to deal with.

"It was difficult to prepare mentally because we didn't really know what we were preparing for," he admitted.

"We really didn't know what we were meant to do and to be quite honest no-one else did.

"Everyone arrived and we just hatched a plan as we went along."

It meant a day in the fields, gathering up his sheep and helping to send them to their slaughter.

"It was all very makeshift, all very temporary and almost a ramshackle arrangement to try to manage the day," he recalled.

"It was chaotic - obviously all the teams involved got much more proficient and professional.

Animal carcases being burned Plumes of smoke from burning animals became a familiar sight in southern Scotland in 2001

"But it was a very chaotic day, it was the very first job they did."

His animals were killed before any transport arrived to remove their carcases.

"Looking back it was really quite a surreal day when you think of what we actually had to do that day to get the job done," he said.

"They basically killed all the sheep we had on the farm before the first lorry arrived.

"So we had about 1,300 or 1,400 sheep piled up in heaps around the farmyard which meant that when the lorries arrived they couldn't get them into the yard because there were piles of sheep in the way."

Eventually they had to effectively "bulldoze" them out of the way before attempts were made to scoop up the dead animals.

'Very surreal'

"It was quite horrific really when you think of what actually went on," Mr Orr recalled.

In the days following the cull, he still had cows to tend to on his farm but he said something had changed in his view of the industry.

"It was just a very surreal, peculiar feeling - it is a feeling of loss, a feeling of grief that you go through afterwards," he said.

"The cull, I think, made us question the whole economics and the whole sense of being on a tenanted farm."

He and his wife Karen quit agriculture as their health suffered and found it hard to move on.

Mr Orr said they eventually managed to do so, but there is still a tremor in his voice when he contemplates being put in the same position once more.

"I think we would do the same again," he said.

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