The first case of foot and mouth disease (FMD) to hit Northumberland for nearly 12 weeks has been confirmed by scientists from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Three cows and their calves on a farm near Hexham were slaughtered Thursday night after showing signs of infection, and all the remaining cattle and sheep on the farm will now be slaughtered later today.

The latest development brings the total number of cases to 1969 and has sparked fresh fears about the how long the disease will continue to affect the countryside. Experts had warned that if farmers breach security regulations and hygiene rules the disease would not disappear for months and Dr Neil Ferguson, of London’s Imperial College, warned earlier this week that if the disease is not eradicated before the winter it will be harder to control in poorer weather conditions.

The first live UK cattle auction since the beginning of the crisis took place only days ago in the Orkney Islands.

Officials from Defra will hold a news conference today at the Newcastle Disease Emergency Control Centre at Kenton Bar.