Emergency planners were this morning meeting in response to the outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

West Sussex County Council says it is being "particularly vigilant because the outbreak is in a neighbouring county.

Emergency managers are working with officials from Surrey after the confirmed outbreak on a farm in the Guildford area.

Lionel Barnard, cabinet member for public protection, said: "All the necessary plans and procedures are in place. Naturally, everyone hopes that this is an isolated incident.

"However, we have to be vigilant. I want to stress that there is no risk to the public, and the West Sussex countryside is open as usual and no footpaths are closed.

"The situation is being kept under constant review in consultation with Government departments.

"The advice at present is that there is no reason to close paths in West Sussex. If and when the advice changes we will immediately take action.

"The Government has advised that closures should only happen after a risk review led by vets and Animal Health and if that becomes the case we will get it done with all urgency."

A protection zone of three kilometres radius and surveillance zone of 10 kilometres has been placed around the farm in Surrey and a nationwide ban on the movements of all animals classified as ruminants and pigs has been imposed.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Environment Secretary Hilary Benn cancelled their holidays to return to London to deal with the infection.

All the cattle on the infected farm are to be killed.

First results from the scientific analysis of the virus could be available as early as late today, though it may take longer depending on the exact strain of the virus involved.

Once the strain has been identified, experts will check to see whether relevant vaccines are available in the British or European vaccine banks.

The outbreak raised the spectre of the foot and mouth epidemic of 2001, which brought chaos to Britain and left farming and tourist industries devastated.

It led to the slaughter of between 6.5 and 10 million animals, ruined many rural businesses and is estimated to have cost the country up to £8.5 billion.

This morning a Defra spokesman said work was continuing at the farm and refused to comment on whether any other farms were involved.

The Defra spokesman said last night: "Following an investigation of suspected vesicular disease by Animal Health on a holding near Guildford in Surrey, laboratory results have indicated that the foot and mouth disease virus is present in samples from cattle on the premises.

"On the basis of initial laboratory results, Debby Reynolds, UK Chief Veterinary Officer, has confirmed foot and mouth disease.

"Nationally no animal movements are allowed except under licence, controls are in place on movement of animal carcasses, animal gatherings, shearing and dipping are restricted, and all farms must increase levels of biosecurity."

Michael More-Molyneux, of 1400-acre Loseley Farm, which is just five miles from the infected farm, said he was hopeful there would not be a repeat of the devastation of 2001.

He said: "Luckily for us, the wind is going from north to south so it is not coming in our direction.

"The other thing is that hopefully they have got on top of it in time. They were much quicker off the mark than last time round.

"The first time there was a lot of stock moving across the country. This time there has been a lot less movement."

But he admitted he was concerned about his cattle.

"We are keeping our fingers crossed but there is really nothing we can do about it except wait," he added "We have shut the farm off and are making sure anyone coming onto the farm is stopped. We have also diverted some of the footpaths which go through fields of young stock.

"It doesn't do confidence in agriculture or tourism or British exports any good and of course it will damage confidence in British products.

"Everyone is a loser here, we are losers all round. We can only hope that this outbreak is a flash in the pan."

Cobra held an emergency meeting in the cabinet Office last night where Ms Reynolds told officials it was too early to tell how serious the outbreak could be.

At this morning's meeting Ms Reynolds will present a report to the Prime Minister about the response to the latest outbreak.

Speaking on Radio 4's Today programme Peter Kendall, the president of the National Farmers Union (NFU), said the farming industry would not oppose the use of vaccination of livestock if that was the scientific advice.

He said: "Certainly as an industry we would not stand in any way to object to vaccination if the scientists deem it the right way of moving forward."

Mr Kendall said the 2001 outbreak had been followed by a series of reports which were still fresh in the minds of those dealing with the disease. The response six years ago was hampered because the previous outbreak in 1969 was so long ago and reports had been "left on the shelf", he said.

"I think the Government's reacted well last night in immediately restricting and banning all movements," Mr Kendall added.

"There are a lot of country shows going on over the weekend. Those are all going to have to have all livestock movements banned and restricted. We are trying to work with other organisations to make sure that the word is got out as fast as possible.

"Also, people understand that last time the delay that occurred caused the further spread. Going through some short-term inconvenience now is a price worth paying if we can restrict this and keep it to a single location."

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said: "This outbreak is yet another blow for a beleaguered agricultural industry still reeling under the effects of flooding and only now getting over the last bout of this disease.

"The countryside will need all the support it can get from the Government.

"Alternatives, like vaccination, to the terrible pyres of smoke which stained the countryside last time must be actively explored, but in the end the Government will have to follow the best scientific advice."

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, added: "The Government deserves congratulation for learning the lessons of its shambolic response to the devastating 2001 crisis by stopping all animal movements and preparing for vaccination of surrounding herds as soon as the virus is identified.

"A clear lesson of the last outbreak was the need for speedy vaccination, so the isolation of the virus and a potential matching with banks of vaccine will be key.

"The other priority has to be to keep rural communities informed as this is a time of high anxiety not just among farmers but also for those involved in rural tourism who were hard hit by an entirely unjustified wave of cancellations last time. There is no threat to human health and no reason to cancel any country holiday.

"This crisis could not come at a worse time for rural communities already reeling from the effects of floods on crops and livestock. For many bed and breakfasts, pubs and restaurants, this is the peak season in the school holidays."

RSPCA director general Jackie Ballard said: "Everything must be done to make sure we do not see a return to the appalling mass slaughter of farm animals that occurred during the last outbreak.

"There was widespread public revulsion at the funeral pyres and mass killing, and animal welfare seemed to be the lowest priority for the authorities. That must not be allowed to happen again."