A FORMER farmer has opened up about what it was like to live through the foot-and-mouth outbreak which happened 20 years ago.

The cull in 2001 caused a major crisis in British agriculture, leading to around six million animals being destroyed nationwide to stop the spread of the disease.

Phepsom Manor Farm at Himbleton, near Droitwich, lost many of its cattle and Philip Smith-Maxwell was the only farmer at the time to have personally destroyed his cattle.

Philip Smith-Maxwell, who farmed the land, has since diversified into an animal welfare business, said: “The Government effectively took control of the farm and I was just left with a bank balance.

“I was very fortunate as the year before the outbreak, I started a horse ambulance business.

“The outbreak was a major upheaval for my family but, 20 years on, I’ve never looked back as a diversified at the right time.

Mr Smith-Maxwell also took on work for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) at the time for the humane destruction of livestock, and the experience is difficult for him to recall.

“I remember the second day of the cull, finished slaughtering at lunchtime and I stood in the yard and everything was so quiet - a deafening silence compared to hours before when it was so busy with the noise of cattle.

“I was brought up in a military family, so I just got on with it - it was worse for people around me - I wanted to give the animals dignity and a quick death.”

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Mr Smith Maxwell, who has a slaughterman’s licence, told a reporter in 2001 that “in one day I shot all 486 animals. You have to use a high-power rifle and the sheer effort shattered me.

“One day, I was bringing in the cows to milk and the next day I shot them all dead. “It was terrible. I was mentally and physically a wreck for days. I never want to go through that again,” he added.

His compassion for animals has led to his successful horse ambulance business, which is in demand.