POPULAR visitor attraction Cruckley Animal Farm has been permanently closed after an outbreak of E.coli.
The family-run farm, at Foston-on-the-Wolds, had been a firm favourite with school children and families for almost quarter of a century.
But two weeks ago the farm, where visitors can feed and pet animals, closed temporarily without explanation.
Now the owners John and Sue Johnston have decided to close the 60-acre site permanently after several visitors to the farm fell ill and a Health Protection Agency (HPA) investigation launched.
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.”
Six confirmed cases of E.coli 0157, the most common kind in the UK, have been linked to the farm and Mr Johnston said they are now working closely with the HPA to help them with their enquiries.
“We have welcomed people onto our farm for almost 25 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,” Mr Johnston said.
“However, in light of what has happened, after a great deal of consideration, we have taken the difficult decision to retire.
“We have thoroughly enjoyed meeting so many people over the years 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,” he added.
Dr Terry Matthews, Consultant in Communicable Disease Control at North Yorkshire and the Humber Health Protection Unit, said six confirmed cases were being investigated as part of the outbreak and all individuals are currently recovering at home.
The Health Protection Unit is working with the HSE, Local Authority Environmental Health Officers and other partners to investigate any possible common source of infection.
Dr Matthews added: “We are aware that the individuals affected recently visited a farm in the East Riding of Yorkshire and we are continuing to investigate 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 farm was a popular destination for school groups who visited from across the East Riding to learn more about farming and the countryside.
Mike Furbank, head of improvement and learning at East Riding of Yorkshire Council said: “Cruckley Farm was for many years a very popular destination for school visits and afforded many children the opportunity to see farm life and animals close up in a charming and safe setting.
“Its closure is a cause of significant regret and many generations of school children will be saddened to hear of it.