FARMERS in the New Forest are facing costs including vets' bills of £100 an hour following an outbreak of bluetongue disease in neighbouring Dorset.

The Forest has been declared a bluetongue protection zone, which means animals must not be taken to the local cattle market unless they have been tested for the disease.

Farmers in the area affected are having to pay vets to carry out the necessary blood tests.

They also face the cost of buying extra food for stock that must remain in the protection zone until they receive the all clear.

Bluetongue is the latest blow to hit agricultural communities, many of which are still reeling from last year's foot-and-mouth outbreak and wet summer.

Dorset and the New Forest were designated protection zones earlier this week after a cow near Poole was found to have the disease.

Farmer Jonathan Gerrelli said: "If we want to take our animals to Salisbury market, which is outside the zone, they have to be tested to make sure they haven't got bluetongue.

"Vets have a call-out charge of about £40 and tend to charge approximately £100 an hour once they're actually on your farm.

"Testing for bluetongue will cost a considerable amount, which will come out of any profit people thought they were going to make at market.

"I was hoping to take ten cattle to Salisbury market next Tuesday, but there's no way I can get the tests done and the results back in time."

The bluetongue outbreak began last September when an infected animal was found in East Anglia. That and subsequent cases have resulted in East Anglia and parts of Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and north-west London, as well as Dorset and the New Forest, being made protection zones.

However, the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs says the countryside is open as normal.

A spokesman said: "Blue-tongue does not affect dogs or horses. There are no restrictions on dog walking or horse riding and no closure of footpaths."