A swathe of countryside in Solihull was shut down yesterday after a suspected foot-and-mouth case at a local farm.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs set up a temporary exclusion zone just after 3pm following a report of an animal potentially suffering from the highly infectious virus.

The exclusion zone, which was centred on Woodhouse Farm, near Catherine-de-Barnes, covered nearly 12 square miles, taking in parts of Birmingham International Airport and the National Exhibition Centre.

Defra said the control zone was a "precautionary measure" and it would take 24 hours before test results could be confirmed by vets brought in from Leicestershire.

The Birmingham Post understands the alert was sounded after one bull was seen frothing at the mouth. A livestock business called Cattell is based at the farm which is believed to be owned by Geoff Cattell. No one from the farm was available for comment last night.

A Defra spokesman said: "At this stage dis-ease has not been confirmed. The containment and eradication of foot and mouth disease is our top priority.

"It remains essential for animal keepers to practise the highest standards of biosecurity, remain vigilant for disease and report any suspicions immediately."

Police officers guarded the entrance to the lane leading to the small cattle breeding farm at the centre of the suspected outbreak. Parents were allowed through the cordon to collect children from dance classes being held at the Solihull Music School, whose premises share the access road with the farm.

All movement of susceptible animals in and out of the control zone was banned, in scenes similar to those seen around farms and cattle markets across the country in recent weeks.

The news came less than 48 hours after an outbreak on a farm in Egham, Surrey, was confirmed.

The National Farmers' Union last night said it was apprehensive about the possible effects of an outbreak, but it was too early to be sure what had happened.

David Collier, chairman of the West Midlands NFU, said: "All we have heard is that there is a suspected case, and we are waiting to hear more.

"We are looking at this suspected case of foot and mouth with extreme concern. Let's just hope it isn't positive."

Local MP Caroline Spelman (Con Meriden) said: "If this suspected case is confirmed, it has major implications for the whole of the UK farming industry, as it is no longer confined to just Surrey.

"Locally this could have serious consequences as the 3km control zone takes in the major transport hubs of the airport, railway station, the NEC and the motorway network.

"This suspected case calls into question the adequacy of the Government's contingency planning for the continued threat posed by foot and mouth disease.

"My heart goes out to the farmers in the West Midlands waiting on tenterhooks for news, especially the affected farmers in the exclusion zone.

"Hopefully this does prove to be a false alarm, but shows that we cannot be complacent at all when it comes to foot and mouth."

Maggie Throup, the Conservative parliamentary spokesman for Solihull, added: "I want to commend the farmer for his public spirit in alerting the authorities as soon as he saw one of his herd was unwell.

"But we must remember that the farms in this area would not be in this situation if there had not been a leak of the virus from the Government laboratory at Pirbright in Surrey."

Solihull MP Lorely Burt said the situation was "an absolute nightmare" but added: "I think we don't want to spread doom and gloom because what they've done at that farm is highly commendable.

"I know Birmingham International Airport's affected, but I'm not too sure what this is going to mean for them, and what effect it's going to have."

About 24,000 people are employed in the rural economy in Solihull. In 2004, a rural audit by the borough council found 233 traditional farms in Solihull covering nearly 7,500 hectares.

The vast majority rear cattle and sheep with only a small number dealing with pigs, poultry or crops.