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Tuesday, 23 September 2014

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Tree planting at Watchtree reserve marks foot and mouth milestone

A tree-planting ceremony was held this week at the site where hundreds of thousands of animals were buried during the foot and mouth crisis a decade ago.

Watchtree tree planting photo
John Craven, left and Brigadier Alex Birtwistle at the planting

There were mixed emotions for those gathered at Watchtree nature reserve near Carlisle, which has been transformed into a cycling centre for disabled children and a haven for wildlife.

Brigadier Alex Birtwistle, who co-ordinated the battle against the disease in Cumbria, helped TV presenter John Craven of BBC’s Countryfile to plant an oak tree on Tuesday.

William Little, now a director at Watchtree, was farming during the outbreak. He said: “We were celebrating how much we’ve achieved and how much we’ve moved on since the outbreak. It is a place that was developed out of a horrid foot and mouth disposal pit into something positive for the future.”

The tree planting ceremony was filmed by Countryfile to be screened next month in a programme to mark the 10th anniversary of the national crisis.

Watchtree, a former airfield at Great Orton, became the burial site for nearly 500,000 cows, sheep and pigs culled during the 2001 outbreak.

The first case was confirmed in Cumbria on February 28, 2001.

The county went on to bear the brunt of the outbreak with almost half of UK cases being found here.

Defra agreed a 10-year funding package to transform Watchtree for the community and a mile-long cycle path for disabled children and adults was created.

It has also become the focus for research into endangered wildlife species and plans are being formulated to make the reserve self-sufficient when Defra funding ends in five years’ time.

Mr Little added: “I have taken people around the site who have come to the door and at first said they can’t go any further because of what happened here.

“But they have all changed their minds about Watchtree because it has become such a beautiful place. We have a number of projects in the pipeline that will bring more visitors in.”

One of the most immediate projects will be doubling the size of the popular cycle track, which incorporates a bird hide and viewing platforms.

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