The latest MAFF guidance to local authorities (issued yesterday) says: While an ultra-precautionary response was understandable and responsible in the early days of the outbreak, a formal risk assessment has now been carried out which shows that there is no veterinary justification for closing all footpaths and preventing all public access to land.
A more measured response is recommended which takes account of the real risk. That risk differs according to location and land use and is minimal in many circumstances...
Local authorities are encouraged to consider reopening as their first priority those footpaths which serve the local population and economy or which lead to or are in the areas of most recreational demand, such as footpaths to the coast or in big tourist areas, national and other well used trails, circular paths and cycle routes.
Rights of way are being re-opened across the country, including 278 in Wiltshire, 90 per cent of paths in South Tyneside and some in Somerset. In Suffolk, Lancashire and Cornwall, the county councils have already agreed to open footpaths. However, Cornwall County Council is dragging its heels over the opening of the Camel trail, which sustains a multitude of cycle hire operators.
Other regions, including County Durham, Cheshire and Newcastle are considering gradual opening of paths in the run up to Easter.
Those using the reopened rights of way will be asked to stick to the following advice:
* If you keep or handle farm livestock you are requested not to enter or cross other farmland.
* Avoid contact with sheep, cows, goats, pigs or farm and parkland deer and do not feed them.
* Do not enter enclosed fields with sheep, cows, goats or pigs :
* if you come across them unexpectedly, walk away slowly
* if necessary re-trace your steps rather than crossing the field.
* Do not leave any waste food or litter.
* Keep dogs on a lead at all times. Do not take dogs on land with cows, sheep, goats and pigs.
* Use disinfectant where provided.
* Clean your boots and vehicles after each walk or visit to the countryside.
This new guidance coincides with advice published yesterday by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport for managers of tourist attractions.
Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, Head of the Rural Taskforce, said:
"Getting people back into the countryside safely is the best possible way of helping the rural community recover. There are plenty of attractions for people to visit without risking the spread of foot and mouth disease. The new guidance to local authorities should ensure many footpaths are open again by Easter."