THE economy of the Malvern Hills faces serious damage from the Foot and Mouth crisis with business losses mounting.

The cancellation of the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the closure of the Malvern Hills to walkers have deprived the tourist industry of two spring mainstays.

Patrick Jones, general manager at the Abbey Hotel, said business had suffered a great deal following the Cheltenham cancellation.

"It's one of the key weeks in our year," he said.

"We were booked up but now we're only half full and we've probably lost about a third of our revenue for the whole of March, which is tens of thousands of pounds."

Helen Thomas, co-owner of The Foley Arms Hotel, said people had stopped coming for short breaks.

"We haven't totalled up our losses but it will be in the thousands. Our next worry of course is how safe is the spring show at the Three Counties Showground?" she said.

Oswald Dockery, owner of the Malvern Hills Hotel, British Camp, said with the hills shut his business was really suffering

Sharon Gilbert at the Three Counties Showground said losses so far for events cancelled and postponed in March and April stand at more than £50,000 and rising.

She added that they were in constant touch with MAFF and environmental health officers and that the Spring Gardening Show would be going ahead unless they are advised otherwise.

Ian Rowat, director of Malvern Hills Conservators, said he was doing all he could to try and re-open the hills as soon as possible but it may not be possible by Easter.

He added that the closure of the car parks is costing the Conservators about £600 a week.

Paul Ferguson, owner of Malvern Outdoors in Church Street, said the closure of the hills was having a "severe effect".

"If the hills don't open by Easter I don't think Malvern Outdoors will be here by September," he said, although he added he had been getting a lot of support from local people.

The Heart of England Tourist Board estimates that its sector is losing at least £10 million a week.