"MINDLESS idiots" destroying foot and mouth disease signs on footpaths and failing to keep away from open land will no longer be tolerated. Sheep destroyed at Sparum Farm, Stone, are bundled up in plastics sacks ready to be incinerated.

Wyre Forest District Council has tightened up enforcement of the emergency rules since the weekend and has warned legal action will be taken against persistent offenders.

The council has lost patience with people still flouting appeals to keep away from nature reserves and not to use rights of way.

Despite Wyre Forest's classification as a Government exclusion zone after last week's foot and mouth outbreak at Chaddesley Corbett, notices at entrances to nature reserves are still being torn down or burned and red-and-white tapes closing off footpaths are being trampled and ignored.

District council head of cultural, leisure and commercial services, Andrew Dickens, said the council would consider taking out private prosecutions with fines of up to £5,000 for those flouting bans on the use of footpaths.

He said: "It is very frustrating. Signs at Spennells and Burlish Top in some cases have been burned almost as soon as we have put them up.

"On Tuesday I met three dog walkers on a banned footpath that passed land with livestock on it. Two apologised and said they thought it was OK to walk there because the path was tarmac. The other just stayed silent."

He said the council was liaising with police who were prepared to treat the destruction of signs as criminal damage.

Council leader Mike Oborski said: "The vast majority of people are minding the warnings and being co-operative. But there is a minority of mindless idiots we are having to deal with. We will take action from now on to catch them."

The council has distributed leaflets to more than 45,000 Wyre Forest households warning the public to keep out of the countryside and emphasising the urgency of the situation since the outbreak.

The notices highlight Government advice and appeal to the public not to venture into the countryside on foot, to keep dogs away from parks and country areas and not to exercise horses away from the areas where they are stabled.

The leaflets also ask people not to make unnecessary journeys into the country in vehicles and not to fish or play sports in rural areas.

It reminds the public of "a very serious" situation because Wyre Forest is now at the centre of a number of outbreaks of the disease resulting in the whole district being classified as an exclusion zone for at least another three weeks.

l Wolverley pub landlord Nigel Addison said he had closed off the Queens Head car park access to a popular dog-walking area behind the pub because it is near to land containing livestock.

The land owned by the Sebright Education Foundation and known as The Plantation drew dog walkers from as far afield as Kinver at the weekend, he said.