Page last updated at 04:16 GMT, Friday, 26 May 2006 05:16 UK

Crocodile meat for Fenland farm

By Nic Rigby
BBC News, Norwich

Andy Johnson and young crocodile
Andy Johnson believes there is a market for crocodile meat
Talk of crocodiles usually conjures up visions of Africa or the Australian outback.

But now one East Anglian farmer is bringing these animals to the rural setting of the Fens.

Andy Johnson told the BBC that he has only got eight crocodiles at the moment, but in a few years time he could have as many as a thousand.

Mr Johnson, 36, of Oldhurst, Cambridgeshire, is setting up the farm to breed crocodiles for meat.

"It's white, low fat meat with the grain of fish. Some people say it is similar to chicken, but it's not, it tastes of crocodile," he said.

Crocodile can be eaten as a meat steak or even spare ribs.

Mr Johnson said: "Crocodile meat is a small market now but I think the demand for alternative meats will grow in the next few years.

It all started off as a bit of a joke, but the more people asked me if I'd done anything about it the more I looked into it
Fens crocodile farmer Andy Johnson

"There's definitely a market for it. As far as we know we're the only ones commercially looking at farming the crocodiles in the UK, probably Europe."

The biggest animal on his farm is an 8ft 6in long female called Cuddles.

Other crocodiles given names include Romeo (the lone male), Sherbert, Kisses, Grumpy, Smiler and Snouty.

"It all started off as a bit of a joke, but the more people asked me if I'd done anything about it the more I looked into it," said Mr Johnson.

"What we were amazed by was how environmentally friendly it is. We can feed them using farming by products - we use laying hens which would otherwise be sent for incineration.

One of the older crocodiles on the farm
Crocodile meat will be sold in the farm shop

"It's much better than fish farming because fish are fed on krill which are caught using massive nets. Krill is the bottom of the food chain so it's really bad for the environment.

"We're looking at ways of using renewable energy including solar power to heat the building."

Huntingdonshire District Council said officers had checked Mr Johnson's operation and given him permission to proceed.

"We've given the farm the go-ahead. Our concern is that the animals are properly looked after, that they pose no danger to the public and that there is a proper plan in place if one escapes," said a council spokesman.

But though Mr Johnson has a wild animal licence to allow him to keep the crocodiles, he admits he is wary of the animals.

He does not go into the building alone and often employs his wife Tracey, 35, to accompany him inside.

A crocodile at the farm
The local council has given Mr Johnson permission for the farm

He said: "With crocodiles it's very important to be seen by them as top dog, and you do build a relationship up with them.

"But you have to be careful. Crocodiles don't nip or growl to show they are in a bad mood and have no real way of showing it so you have to be wary.

"There's no real danger outside of the building though because there's very few days in this country when it's warm enough for them. If they are outside and it is too cold they will get very slow or not move at all."

They are also planning to open a farm shop, and every Saturday he will be allowing visitors to see his crocodiles free of charge.

Crocodile farm planned for Fens
24 May 06 |  Cambridgeshire

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