LIVESTOCK owners in Worcestershire were today praying that foot-and-mouth would not hit their farms as thousands of sheep near Pershore were condemned for slaughter.

Robert Smith, of Grove Farm in Bishampton, was told yesterday his 4,000-strong flock would be destroyed.

He remained unavailable for comment as the Evening News went to press.

The Ministry also confirmed that farmers who had so far seen their animals escape foot-and-mouth could be forced to slaughter them in an effort to eradicate the virus.

Farms within a two-mile radius of infected areas are being told to destroy all sheep, pigs and cattle, Agriculture Minister Nick Brown announced yesterday.

The fourth case in Worcestershire came as a shock to the farming community who had hoped their nightmare was over.

Nine cases have been confirmed in Herefordshire, which have all been traced back to Llancloudy farmer Kevin Feakins.

"It's a great disappointment to everyone in that area, we hoped it had stayed clean," said Andrew Baxter, who farms five miles from the Bishampton outbreak, at Pirton.

"We're all very concerned.

"The longer it goes on, the closer it gets and the more worried we become.

"I've got just under 200 cattle and I've been monitoring them throughout.

"It's something that we dread, but if we have foot-and-mouth we must find it as quickly as possible for the benefit of all our neighbours.

"This latest case spreads the area out more. The cases are getting closer and it's too close for comfort.

"The sooner we can get on top of it the better."

MAFF investigators today launched a fresh appeal for farmers who had bought stock from markets at Longtown, near Carlisle, Northampton and Welshpool to come forward.

All three markets have been implicated in the spread of foot-and-mouth disease.

ANDREW Spence, regional co-ordinator for Farmers For Action in north east England, predicted a rural revolt against mass slaughter of healthy animals in the so-called cull zones.

Under a plan announced by Agriculture Minister Nick Brown yesterday, more than 100,000 susceptible sheep and pigs are to be culled in areas of high infection.

But Mr Spence told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We are not going to just sit back and see hundreds of thousands of healthy animals slaughtered.

"I have got foot-and-mouth two miles in one direction and three miles in another. I am sitting on a knife-edge myself.

"If my animals are diagnosed with foot-and-mouth, I will stand there and shoot them myself, but I am not going to see them shot for nothing.''