A MOOD of fear and despair has descended on farmers and countryside dwellers as the foot and mouth outbreak continues to threaten livelihoods.

At Moorhall Farm, in Bringsty, farmer Mark Brodie said the thought of seeing his entire herd of sheep and cattle slaughtered was filling him with depression.

Every day MAFF officials, dressed in special disinfected outfits, visit his Bringsty farm to check his 800 cows and sheep for signs of foot and mouth.

His farm is just three fields away from Home House Farm, where more than 200 cattle have already been slaughtered after falling victim to the disease.

Mr Brodie, aged 30, has been farming his 500 acres since he left school in 1983 and he has built his farm up to 200 milking cows, 200 beef cows and 400 sheep. Farming has been in his family since the 1930s but now he is thinking of giving it all up and finding a new job.

"It's just all such a lot of hassle," he said. "I've had to get extra blokes in to catch the animals and the ministry has to keep coming in to check them.

"We were told we had the all clear yesterday but that only lasts for 24 hours so they have to keep coming and nobody else is allowed in or out."

Unhappy, depressed and with a constant headache he said it was the 'not knowing' which was the hardest thing to bear.

"Next door at Home House he had to have all his cows shot," said Mr Brodie. "This is the last nail in the coffin for farming and I'm thinking of jacking it all in."

Geoff Holborow, of Rosemore Farm in Whitbourne, said he could see and smell the pyres from his farm.

"I can't imagine anyone who's got stock who is managing to sleep the standard eight hours," he said.

"It's a waiting game and there will be people who are financially very stressed but it's the lack of knowledge and the wait which is worrying people. Obviously there's a lot of extra work and a hell of a lot of extra hassle. But there's been a lot of concern and support for the farming population and obviously businesses are struggling too, particularly the bed and breakfasts."

At Brockhampton Primary, children and their teachers are having to walk over disinfected mats to get into school.

Headteacher Jim Preston said the close outbreak has had quite a dramatic effect.

"We're at the edge of the Bromyard Downs which back onto the common and some farming families have been keeping their children away, which you can understand," he said.

"We're doing what we can to prevent the spread. We've cancelled after-school clubs, night-time meetings and we can't use our sports fields because they're on the Downs."

He said it was hard to gauge how the children were coping.

"I spoke to them in assembly to reassure them and encouraged them to talk to friends and family if they're worried about anything. We're taking advice from the LEA and they've advised us not to close the school."

Boarding kennels close to the infected areas are taking care when they walk their dogs. At Little Byfields Kennels, in Storridge, Joy Beesley is keeping the dogs on her own property.

"We've got quite a big area at the back of the kennels but you have to be careful where the dogs are coming from," she said. "It's a worrying situation but at the moment it isn't affecting us too badly."

Riding stables are taking similar precautions.

At Madresfield Riding Centre they have cancelled their hacking out and are concentrating instead on lessons in the arena.

Jane Jones, owner of the Walnut Stables in Hanley Swan, said they would begin to notice the impact of the outbreak if the bridleways and hills are still closed by Easter.

The closures of paths and open spaces will remain in place for the time being at least, following a meeting in Worcester this week. Representatives from the National Farmers Union, MAFF, Worcestershire County Council, Malvern Hills District Council, the Environment Agency and the Country Landowners' Association all discussed the latest situation.

Although there were concerns expressed about the closures, they were confirmed to prevent the further spread of the disease.

"The closure of these key areas is necessary to minimise the risk of walkers and their pets picking up and passing on the virus," said Steve Birch, the county council's trading standards operation manager.

"The public have responded really well so far but we need to maintain that same high level of co-operation."