THE Kenward family has decided to close Coxbridge Farm to the public, claiming the foot-and-mouth outbreak has been the final blow to their struggling business.

The Kenwards have been at Coxbridge since 1975, owned it since 1992 and continued to run it as a dairy and pig farm until the summer drought in 1995 forced the sale of all 250 cattle and 600 pigs.

In 1997 Keith and Valerie Kenward converted the former working farm into a rare breeds farm open to the public.

But the visitor attraction has struggled in recent years and even attempts to diversify further - such as a monster truck event - have failed to see the Kenwards break even.

The Kenwards decided to close for the duration of the foot-and-mouth outbreak in its early stages - just as they were gearing up for the start of the season in the spring.

But with no end to the outbreak in sight, the family has decided to close the farm to the public permanently.

Keith Kenward, who has previously managed farms in Godalming, Alton and New Milton, Dorset, as well as in Farnham at the Lower Old Park Estate, told The Herald this week: "There's no way forward as far as I can see. The farm isn't cost-effective. We're working flat-out and not making any money.

"We had a bad year with the weather last year. We had a target of £75,000 and we only took about £20,000, so we were hoping for a good year this year so we could recover, but foot and mouth has finished us. It's very disappointing."

The closure will see sheep and guinea pigs and chipmunks sold off, but the Kenwards will keep birds including chickens and a cockatiel.

It will mean an end to visits from the public and corporate days, when businesses would hire out the farm for an afternoon of family-orientated fun.

Three staff, including two weekend helpers will be laid off.

Mr Kenward (67) said he has no immediate plans to sell off his land, some of which he rents for grazing to horse owners, despite having to pay back a considerable mortgage.

"We'll enjoy a few free weekends now, because we haven't had many over the years. In a way we need a bit of time off because it's been very stressful. I'm moderately comfortable with the decision."

"The worst moment was when my son Matthew broke his leg when he came off an all- terrain vehicle when we were working flat out. But we all have our hardships and one shouldn't dwell on them."