Developers and animal welfare campaigners have clashed over plans to establish an 8100-cow dairy farm in Lincolnshire.

Nocton Dairies claims the RSPCA has rejected an invitation to meet and help ensure the proposed “super dairy” incorporates the best welfare standards.

But the animal welfare charity told Farmers Weekly it was only too willing meet with Nocton representatives and examine the proposals.

Nocton Dairies director and Devon farmer Peter Willes said: “[The RSPCA] says: ‘Give us something to support or oppose’ yet will not talk to us.

“We’d love to have the RSPCA’s views, and have attempted to show the prototype housing for Nocton Dairies that is now up and running in Devon and our welfare and management statement, but we have been turned down and meetings have been pulled with little explanation.”

Mr Willes claimed the RSPCA had told him it would only engage in the project through the planning process as a consultant.

“It’s frustrating because we want to share this information, but it’s a closed door.

“We agree that welfare is a critical concern on big farms and we’ve taken this seriously, spending five years researching the best system for the dairy with some of the world’s top vets.

“We’re confident about what we’re proposing, but input from the country’s leading animal welfare organisation at this stage, so we can share views and discuss the requirements of the modern cow, would be very useful.”

But RSPCA director of communications David Bowles said it was untrue that the animal welfare charity had refused to meet Nocton representatives.

The proposed development at Nocton, six miles south of Lincoln, would be much bigger than any other dairy farm in the UK and Europe.

“It immediately rings alarm bells regarding stockmanship and ensuring that welfare is good enough,” said Mr Bowles. “We are quite happy to meet Nocton representatives and discuss these issues at any time.”

Big farms did not necessarily result in poor animal welfare standards, Mr Bowles acknowledged. But it was up to Nocton to demonstrate this.

“What worries me is that Nocton has been putting out a lot of strange statements. It is almost as if it is using the RSPCA as a buttress against its opponents, which isn’t right either.

“What we have said to Mr Willes very clearly is that we are not writing Nocton off, but it is up to [the firm] to show it has dealt with the stockmanship and welfare issues.

“We haven’t seen any of the application and we can’t comment until we have done. We will be looking at it from a scientific point of view and will then work out whether we are in favour.

“Nocton has to convince us that you can keep 8000 dairy cows in the same good conditions as a herd of 800 or 400 cows. At the moment, we are very doubtful about that.”

The planning application for the dairy is expected to be resubmitted shortly after being withdrawn to address a number of technical concerns earlier this year.

Mr Willes said the farm would allow investment, excellent welfare, high staffing levels and environmental benefits – all of which would be detailed when the plan was resubmitted.

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