Every aspect of rural life is threatened by the spread of foot and mouth disease, according to a new report published by the government advisory group the Countryside Agency today (Wednesday).

In the largest survey of its kind, the Countryside Agency assessed the impact of the disease, and The State of the Countryside report paints a bleak picture for the future of British rural life.

The countryside is currently suffering the worst agricultural depression since the 1930s, says the report, and the spread of foot and mouth has exaggerated existing problems. Some afflicted areas will have problems for years to come, it argues, and some may never recover.

According to Countryside Agency estimates, the disease has cost the entire British economy around £4bn (US$5.8bn) over the course of this year alone.

Most of the losses were suffered by the tourist trade, which witnessed a severe fall in the number of visitors to the UK, and the report calls for positive government action to encourage more visitors to go to rural areas.

Ewen Cameron, chairman of the agency, believes that there will be more rural business bankruptcies and fewer countryside jobs in the wake of foot and mouth. The disease crisis will exaggerate the loss of local services and encourage young people to move to urban areas to find employment.

The report therefore calls for help to be given to farmers to enable them to diversify into other businesses. It also calls for a speeding up of measures to improve local facilities in the countryside, as promised in last year's Rural White Paper.

To date 1989 cases of foot and mouth have been recorded, and the report was published as the number of new cases in the recent Northumberland outbreak totalled 13.

If no new cases are reported in Scotland by tomorrow, the country will be able to apply for export licenses because it will have been disease-free for three months. Seven Scottish farms are currently under tight disease restrictions, however, following contact with a farmer from a contaminated farm in north-east England.