While British wool growers battle against the problems of foot and mouth disease, natural fibre producers in other parts of the world are also struggling.

For instance, it is estimated that in the main cashmere harvesting regions of Mongolia many growers suffered major livestock losses in February when local temperatures plummeted to -40ºC and shearing had to be postponed.

In fact, some sources suggest that much of the clip - which will be reaching the market this year in May rather than in April - is actually hair shorn from the carcasses of animals which perished in the 'great blizzard' which swept the Xianjang region. However, early reports of animal deaths numbering more than 1.3 million may relate more to conventional goats and sheep rather than the more precious cashmere stock.

Even so, European processors believe that raw cashmere prices could rise by as much as 40 per cent, and that many of the more price conscious users could be lost. Estimates of how much demand could be curtailed by the projected price increases vary, but few experts predict a cutback of less than 10 per cent.

By Sonia Roberts.