MENTION foot-and-mouth disease and most people will have some recollection of the epidemic which swept the UK 20 years ago.

They might not remember the exact date or how the disease took hold, but they will recall the slaughter of tens of thousands of animals.

They will remember the plight of farmers watching their livelihoods literally going up in smoke and, somewhere in the back of their minds, a memory that the first “confirmation” was at an abbatoir in Essex.

The first case of the disease to be detected was at Cheale Meats abattoir in Little Warley on February 19 2001 on pigs from Buckinghamshire and the Isle of Wight.

Speaking at the time Paul Cheale, director, said staff at Cheale Meats were "shattered".

He said: "All the live animals have been slaughtered. All the meat we have has been stored but will be destroyed, which amounts to several hundred tonnes. The whole site has been cleared, cleaned and sterilised."

Over the next four days, several more cases were announced in Essex.

Brentwood Live: The burning of many animals at the Wick farm in LayerThe burning of many animals at the Wick farm in Layer

There were also known outbreaks at Blue House Farm in North Fambridge and Greenacres farm in Canewdon.

John Morley, who ran Greenacres, said his team were "absolutely devastated" by the events.

Speaking at the time he said: "I can't sell the farm because no pig farmer would buy it. I will be talking to the council about alternative uses for the site. It is a very hard thing to do but that is the decision I have made."

The cause of the outbreak was traced to a 55-year-old farmer in Northumbria who was put on trial a year later.

Bobby Waugh, who ran a pig fattening farm in Heddon-on-the-Wall, Northumberland, was found guilty of nine animal health and cruelty charges.

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The outbreak brought devastation to farms across the county. And it would have an impact which lasted for years.

Although only four cases were confirmed in north Essex, thousands of animals had to be slaughtered.

Brentwood Live: Farmer Roy Threadgold who saw hundreds of animals slaughteredFarmer Roy Threadgold who saw hundreds of animals slaughtered

It saw 500 animals at Roy Threadgold’s farm, Boydells Dairy Farm, Wethersfield, have to be slaughtered and incinerated.

In total 1,750 sheep, 96 cattle and two pigs had to be slaughtered and incinerated at Wick Farm and Rye Farm in Layer de la Haye.

Events across the county including the Tendring Show and Colchester Carnival had to be postponed and the Army were called in to assist.

The final case of the 2001 outbreak was reported in Cumbria on September 30.

NFU President Minette Batters said the 2001 outbreak was devastating but British farming had recovered to become a world leader.

She said: “This transformation is testament to the lessons learned from Foot and Mouth and the resilience of British farming.”

Brentwood Live: How we covered the 2007 outbreakHow we covered the 2007 outbreak

But in 2007 Essex was at the epicentre of a disease containment zone caused by outbreaks of foot-and- mouth and bluetongue diseases.

It became the only county in Britain to be branded at risk from both foot and mouth and bluetongue.

Brentwood Live: How we covered the 2007 outbreakHow we covered the 2007 outbreak

It led to the closure of Colchester’s livestock market – the only finished livestock market in the country to be shut.

A circus was also investigated after it moved animals during a travel ban sparked by the outbreak.

The Great British Circus travelled from Clacton to Southend Road, Rochford, despite the Government barring the movement of certain animals.

Marsh Farm Country Park also had to restrict visitors due to the concerns.