E.coli outbreak closes Cruckley Animal Farm
ONE of the region's most popular visitor attractions has closed permanently following an outbreak of E.coli.
Cruckley Animal Farm has been a favourite destination with schoolchildren and families for more than two decades, attracting between 30,000 and 40,000 visitors a year.
But the family-run farm, where people are allowed to feed and pet animals, closed "temporarily" without explanation two weeks ago.
The Mail can now reveal it was closed after a number of visitors complained of feeling unwell, sparking a Health Protection Agency (HPA) investigation.
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Six cases of E.coli 0157 – the UK's most common type of the bug – have been linked to the Foston-on-the-Wolds farm, near Driffield.
Owners John and Sue Johnston have now decided, after 23 years, to close the 60-acre site as a visitor attraction for good.
Mr Johnston said: "At Cruckley Animal Farm, the health and safety of our visitors has always been our top priority.
"We were therefore hugely concerned to hear that a small number of people had fallen ill, having visited us.
"As soon as we were informed of this we voluntarily closed the farm. Naturally, our thoughts are with the families concerned."
The six E.coli cases - four people who visited the farm and two siblings who came into contact with them – are now recovering at home.
Mr Johnson said: "We have welcomed people onto our farm for many years and this is the first time we have experienced anyone becoming ill.
"We have been proud of the cleanliness and hygiene standards maintained across the farm, which we believe were in line with best practice.
"We are working closely with the HPA to help them with their enquiries."
Mr Johnston said the couple have always believed a farm visit makes an important contribution to a broader understanding of the countryside.
He said: "However, in light of what has happened, after a great deal of consideration, we have taken the difficult decision to retire.
"The farm will therefore be closed on a permanent basis."
The family will continue to run it as a private arable farm. The animals will be sold to other farms.
Mr Johnson added: "We have thoroughly enjoyed meeting so many people and hope we have provided an enjoyable and educational day for all of them.
"Obviously, we are very sad to close and would like to thank our staff and the thousands of people who have supported us over the years."
The HPA said both adults and children were affected by the E.coli outbreak and all were recovering or had recovered.
Dr Terry Matthews, from the HPA's Humber Health Protection Unit, said: "Our investigations have identified the farm as the single most likely source of infection.
"Once the farm became aware of illness in visitors, they immediately took the decision to close temporarily as a precautionary measure."
The unit has been working with the Heath and Safety Executive, environmental health officers and other partners to investigate the source of the infection.
It pointed out the closure of the farm had not been forced on the owners and was completely voluntary.