Animal welfare campaigners have attacked Nocton Dairies for trying to use public funding to meet its welfare targets on the proposed 8000-cow unit in Lincolnshire.

Compassion in World Farming used the Freedom of Information Act to show that Nocton had applied for funding from the Rural Development Programme for England.

Then CIWF released the data saying that Nocton was being backed by taxpayers’ money and would lower welfare standards if it failed to attract the grant funding.

The campaign group’s Pat Thomas said it was scandalous that cow welfare was being used as a ransom to get taxpayers’ money to make minimal improvements to an “unsustainable factory farm”.

“RDPE funds are intended to promote objectives such as environmental benefits, improved animal welfare and the development of thriving rural communities.

“They are not intended to support factory farming, where animals are housed in cramped conditions and fed on unnatural diets,” said Ms Thomas.

In the application to the East Midlands Development Agency, Nocton Dairies’ owners said they may only be able to meet the minimum environmental and animal welfare standards if no or reduced levels of RDPE funds were obtained.

The application added that without funding “enhancements to cattle housing and parlours, such as honeycomb grooving to concrete floors, would not be adopted”.

“Water abstraction rights sharing arrangements may also not be adopted. At the very least the anaerobic digester would be delayed to a second phase of development,” the application said.

But Nocton’s Peter Willes defended the application for funding and rejected CIWF’s claims that welfare would be reduced without RDPE money.

“We have applied for funding, as many businesses do when they are facing considerable financial investment.

“If funding from these sources is not available then we will seek funding from alternative sources or additional partners, but we can categorically confirm there will be no compromise in welfare or environmental performance – we are committed to building the farm to the highest available welfare standard.

“The company said the main application was for a visitors centre, open seven days a week, that would help inform the public about dairy farming.

“This would most certainly not go ahead if the application to RDPE was turned down,” Mr Willes added.