Badminton the latest casualty of crisis in countryside

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The Independent Online

Badminton, the most important event in Britain's equestrianism calendar, has fallen victim to foot-and-mouth disease. Organisers of the horse trials announced yesterday that restrictions imposed following the outbreak of the disease made it impossible for them to prepare for this year's event.

Badminton, the most important event in Britain's equestrianism calendar, has fallen victim to foot-and-mouth disease. Organisers of the horse trials announced yesterday that restrictions imposed following the outbreak of the disease made it impossible for them to prepare for this year's event.

The news is a bitter blow for the sport in this country and will cast a doubt over many of this summer's equestrian events. Many of them are staged on farm or parkland and further cancellations can be expected in the coming weeks.

The Mitsubishi Motors-sponsored Badminton event, which was due to be held in the first week of May, is one of the country's biggest sporting occasions. On the Saturday, the cross-country day, more than 100,000 people regularly flock to the Duke of Beaufort's estate to watch the world's leading riders and horses in action. Over the four days of the event, up to a quarter of a million people usually attend.

The problem for Badminton is that the land on which the event is staged is grazed by sheep, cows and deer. The estate is also surrounded by other farms on which livestock are kept. All access to the park has been barred for the last two weeks and the land will continue to be closed to the public for the forseeable future.

Hugh Thomas, the director of the event, said: "This is a very sad day. We feel for the riders, the spectators and indeed the trade stands who were so much looking forward to coming here, but we completely understand and support the view that any risk of spreading this awful disease is unacceptable."

Although foot-and-mouth has forced the postponement of the National Hunt Festival at Cheltenham and three Six Nations rugby union matches, the cancellation of Badminton is arguably the biggest blow to sport so far.

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