'Superdairy' plan shelved over pollution concerns

Martin Hickman,Consumer Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 17 February 2011 01:00 GMT

Plans for the biggest dairy farm in western Europe have been withdrawn following an outcry from local and national campaigners.

Two dairy farmers said concern about groundwater pollution lay behind their cancellation of the £34m Nocton Dairies in Lincolnshire which would have housed almost 4,000 cows.

A total of 14,000 protests had been lodged against the development. Animal welfare groups welcomed its scrapping as a victory against the arrival of American-style industrial farms.

Peter Willes and David Barnes had planned an 8,100-cow "zero-grazing" plant six miles south of Lincoln, but halved their plans to 3,770 cows last year following protests.

Although smaller, the farm would have been 30 times larger than the average UK herd, with each Holstein cow making 58 pints of milk a day.

Nocton Dairies said the large unit would achieve economies of scale in a struggling industry, which farmers had been quitting in droves.

Campaigners claimed that keeping cows indoors in such large numbers for most of their lives was likely to harm their welfare.

Mr Willes responded that their welfare would be better inside, telling BBC radio: "Cows do not belong in fields."

Referring to official concerns about the potential pollution of a local aquifer, Nocton Dairies said yesterday: "The sole reason for this decision is the response of the Environment Agency, which has maintained its objection to the proposal.

"Despite our best efforts to address these concerns... lack of relevant research has made it impossible to provide the reassurances required that livestock farming is an appropriate use of land at this site."

The Independent disclosed last year that Tesco, Sainsbury's and other supermarkets did not intend to buy milk from the proposed super-dairy farm, which relied on bank financing.

Pat Thomas, of Compassion in World Farming, said: "This is a real victory for those of us who believe that cows belong in fields. Although Nocton Dairies have always tried to spin their plans for the UK's first mega-dairy as 'ambitious' and 'visionary', the plans showed they had not addressed some of the most important environmental and animal welfare flaws."

Justin Kerswell, campaigns manager at animal welfare organisation Viva! said: "Environmentally this was a no-go from the start. The red flag from the Environment Agency is testament to that."

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