ANY hopes of an early start to the tourist season have been dashed by the foot and mouth outbreak.

West Midland Safari Park has scrapped its original plan to open this Saturday and has now earmarked March 31.

About 400 valuable animals including rhinos, hippos and giraffes are at risk from infection and the park at Bewdley Road has closed to all but its 80 essential staff.

Spokesman Wendy Jackson said the new opening date was provisional and the situation was being reviewed daily.

"There are disinfectant pads and baths everywhere and we are just taking every precaution we can," she said.

Meanwhile, Severn Valley Railway has seen a swingeing 50 per cent plunge in business, which it says will not be recoverable later in the year.

Marketing manager John Leach said: "People have been told unfortunately the countryside is closed which it certainly is not.

"We have many fewer passengers which is a shame because we have had some beautiful weather. There is no good reason for this because people can change straight into our trains at Kidderminster and go on to Bridgnorth to enjoy the town. Passengers wanting to walk in the valleys, however, will obviously be affected.

Trains were running as usual at the weekends and the two-week Easter programme would go ahead as planned.