The Foot and Mouth Crisis in Cumbria in 2001 was not covered well on either ITV Granada nor BBC North West Tonight.

20th February 2018,

Seventeen years ago this month marked the beginning of the Foot and Mouth Crisis in Britain that decimated farming across Britain.  It started at an Abattoir in Essex and from a pig that was moved from there to a farm at Heddon-on-the-Wall in Northumberland on the 19th February 2001. On the 28th February 2001 the first case of Foot and Mouth Disease was discovered at Longtown Mart in the very north of Cumbria.

The disease affected farming across the country, causing devastating and grief in a number of communities, including across the North West of England. However, by far the worst affected areas were in northern Cumbria, specifically along the Eden Valley, south of Penrith as far south as Tebay, around Carlisle and into north-west Cumbria as far west as Maryport and down to Keswick. There were over 850 farms with confirmed cases of the disease in this part of Cumbria alone. Another two hundred farms were directly affected just north of the Scottish Border into Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders Region itself. This accounted for the majority of the 2,026 farms at which Foot and Mouth disease was reported across Britain during the entire period of the Foot and Mouth Crisis.  What made the situation especially devastating across northern Cumbria (and elsewhere) was Government Policy for all farms within three kilometres of an infected area to have the livestock on them culled including, of course, those farms where the disease was identified. The result of this policy was that the vast majority of farmers in the northern half of Cumbria lost their livestock- and in many cases their livelihood too. About 3,000 farmers in Cumbria had their livestock slaughtered.

Further south, although there were farmers that did lose their animals to Foot and Mouth Disease (and the measures implemented to contain the disease) conditions were nothing like as bad as in the north of Cumbria: The disease was nothing like as community-decimating as further north.

In total South Cumbria alone had around 25 farms on which Foot and Mouth was diagnosed, there was 40 cases in Lancashire and around 20 altogether in Cheshire. Greater Manchester reported one farm with Foot and Mouth and there were none in Merseyside where most people living urban lives and having urban concerns were largely unaffected by the Foot and Mouth Crisis.

The Foot and Mouth Crisis, affecting almost all of northern Cumbria, led to restrictions being put in place to stop the spread of the disease: Tourists were advised not to walk in certain rural areas, lest they risked spreading the disease. However, the scale of the crisis meant that both Regional and National Television News had a duty to warn people likely to visit northern Cumbria on a day out (or for a visit lasting a few days) to stay away from certain areas.  Certainly, with regards to Regional Television News Programming in North West England, from either BBC North West Tonight or ITV Granada Reports, there was little serious coverage of the disaster impacting northern Cumbria. Folk who live in Lancashire and as far south as Wigan and Bolton regularly travel to the Lakes, including the North Lakes for days out. This would have taken them right into the heart of the affected area.

The metropolitan inhabitants of Manchester and Liverpool had their own issues, in the summer of 2001 there were the Race Riots in Rochdale and East Lancashire and this would have been more of an issue for them. However, the Regional Television Bulletins in the North West of England had a duty to cover the whole region effectively.

In 2001 I lived and worked in Lancaster. I remember what the regional bulletins on Granada and North West Tonight contained between March and September 2001 whilst Foot and Mouth Disease totally devasted communities in northern Cumbria. I wrote at the time to Martin Brooks, then Head of Regional and Local Programming for BBC North West about the BBC in the North West with their apparent lack of coverage of the crisis unfolding in Cumbria: His response was that yes, he understood how serious the impact of Foot and Mouth Disease in Cumbria was, but the local news “could only report on the cases that occur in locations where North West Tonight can be seen”. I was flabbergasted, as were a number of viewers of BBC North West Tonight in the South of Cumbria who would have expected some coverage of such devastation in the north of their own county that it drove a number of farmers to suicide.

The BBC in the North West did put out a programme about the developing situation across northern Cumbria in March 2001: A programme was broadcast at 6.30 pm on BBC2 on Sunday 18th March 2001, which was simulcast at the same time in the BBC North East/Cumbria Region. Another programme was also broadcast in mid-September 2001, almost at the end of the Crisis illustrating well-known Cumbrian broadcaster Eric Robson on a journey through the worst-affected areas. These documentaries came after the news, and on BBC2, so the number of North West viewers likely to see it would be low. Neither was the BBC in the North West much involved in producing these documentaries.

So why did BBC North West not cover the devastation affecting northern Cumbria in any great detail? Simply because they had, and still have, this policy of not reporting on anything outside their “Patch” because “No-one watches North West Tonight north of the transmission boundary” (nowadays, when people can watch news from another BBC Region on Sky that is, of course, not strictly true!). It did not seem to occur to the BBC in the North West that, with a catastrophe of the magnitude and persistence that affected northern Cumbria in 2001 people who live a little outside the affected area might still have colleagues, family and friends living or working in the affected areas, and so provide overlap coverage of the disaster and crisis affecting northern Cumbria for the benefit of people living in South Cumbria and North Lancashire (i.e. viewers of BBC North West Tonight).

ITV Granada Reports was even worse. ITV did not even bother producing special programming regarding the Foot and Mouth Crisis in Cumbria and it only reported those cases that occurred in the ITV Granada area.

It has to be said that for viewers of ITV Border and BBC North East/Cumbria (which is normally North East dominated) in northern Cumbria were given daily and extensive sympathetic coverage of the catastrophic developments engulfing their community. It also has to be said that BBC Look North in northern Cumbria also reported on those Foot and Mouth cases in the south of Cumbria for the benefit of their North Cumbrian viewers. Just what was the problem for the BBC in the North West doing a likewise favour for viewers in North Lancashire and South Cumbria by reporting on the far more serious developments further north- and still in the North West of England if the truth be known??

It would be nice to think that if some unspeakable disaster affected the northern half of Cumbria today, that the Regional Television Bulletins for North West England would have more than token mention of it. Something like (say) major flooding that happened in December 2015.

#Foot-and-mouth  #Cumbria #ITV-Granada #NorthWest-Tonight @GranadaTV @BBCNWT #footandmouth

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