Silence of the lambs as farming campus turns into a ghost town

30th March 2001 at 01:00
Raymond Ross reports on how schools and colleges are coming to terms with mass culls and strict quarantine

To enter Barony College near Dumfries is to enter an educational ghost town - 85 per cent of courses aren't running. Of some 1,200 students no more than 50 are on campus.

Russell Marchant, the principal, wants to stay upbeat, but the problems are enormous. Distance learning materials are going out to non-residential students (the few remaining residential students are asked not to travel home at weekends). And staff will run courses until the end of July if they have to.

"That's the aim but it depends on the length and severity of the outbreak," Mr Marchant says.

The signs are ominous. The college farm's 420 cattle, 550 sheep and 200 red deer are under threat. Mr Marchant states: "At the moment we are 3.5 kilometres from the nearest infected farm. If it comes within three kilometres our sheep will be automatically culled. With the cattle it's wait and see at the moment but I'd be surprised if all our animals survive. I expect our sheep will go shortly."

The longer term is eually worrying. "We take students from Shetland to Southampton and, although applications were up on last year by the beginning of March, students might well go elsewhere if the disease takes effect. Even as it is now, how many would want to come to Dumfries and Galloway?" The economic impact is being felt with the cancellation of bookings by international study groups from Sweden, Holland and Norway.

"Seventy-five per cent of our courses are full-time and this is recruitment time for next session," Mr Marchant says. "But it's impossible to invite students here to look at the courses and facilities. We are concerned they will go elsewhere."

The college breaks officially today (Friday) and its principal hopes - perhaps against hope - that they can restart all courses on April 23. "Things are being decided on a daily basis at the moment," he says.

Mr Marchant ends on a gloomy note, as he ponders the further spread of foot-and-mouth by the wind and by birds. "There are 15,000 to 20,000 migrating geese in Dumfries and Galloway at this time of year. Some fly to Iceland and beyond."

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