THE future of the farming industry in Lancashire has been described as 'bleak' after figures revealed the foot and mouth crisis has hit farmers to the tune of more than £8m.

The news came as farmers in Pendle were left devastated after 4,000 animals were slaughtered in mass culling.

A study by the Clitheroe-based group Bowland Initiative showing the devastating economic cost of the disease in the county reveals that more than 700 jobs have been lost.

However, the true figures in terms of both lost revenue and lost jobs is likely to be much higher as the figures only cover the first two months of the crisis.

The Bowland Initiative was set up by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF), now the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

It works alongside and is funded by other agencies including Lancashire County Council to offer advice to the farming industry.

The study also shows that many farmers are considering leaving the industry altogether as a result of the crisis or using their land to diversify into areas other than farming.

It shows that the tourist trade has been ravaged by the crisis with bookings down by 56 per cent for holiday accommodation and 54 per cent in pubs and restaurants.

Cafes, village shops and post offices have also been hit with profits down by an average 42 per cent. It says the total income lost by farms was £8,173,861 with a further £465,844 lost in agricultural services. The total amount lost by the accommodation business was £611,934.

A spokesman for the Bowland Initiative said: "The future viability of farm businesses looks bleak. Additionally, rural businesses linked with farming have incurred substantial losses. Knock-on effects of this will be reduced investment in all sectors of the rural economy, which weakens their ability to produce goods and services effectively."

They added: "The figures in the report provide only a conservative estimate since more than 250 farms have been culled since the report was compiled."

A spokesman for the National Farmers' Union said: "Understandably farmers do feel very apprehensive about the future because they have been through a very tough time.

"We are also putting enormous pressure on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs so that farmers hit by the crisis can start to move forward and claim their compensation."

Mary Parker, tourist information officer for the Ribble Valley, added: "A lot of pubs, especially, say business has been down and they have not been getting as many people in as they would like, but things seem to be picking up now."

A spokesperson for DEFRA confirmed that culling had taken place at six or seven farms around the Twiston area of Pendle during the weekend.

In the last two weeks five cases of foot and mouth have been confirmed at Higher Higson Farm, in Twiston, Higher Asker Hill Farm, in Grindleton, Ghyll Hall Farm, in Barnoldswick, Lower West Clough Farm and Bowland Gate Lane, both in West Bradford.

This brings the total in Lancashire to 49 since the first case was confirmed in February.

The culling in Pendle took place at Meadow Bank Farm, in Barley, which is run by brothers John and Richard Hargreaves and at Mountain Top Farm, in Blacko, run by Simon Duerden.