Welcome to Fenland - it could soon be UK capital of the locusts, crickets, worms, snakes and tortoises industry

PUBLISHED: 19:35 17 January 2016 | UPDATED: 19:35 17 January 2016

Arthur Rickwood site Mepal. Picture: Steve Williams.

Arthur Rickwood site Mepal. Picture: Steve Williams.

Archant

A 100 acre farm, given to the nation by a former Chatteris councillor as an agricultural research centre, could now house part of a £10 million a year turnover business selling crickets, locusts, worms, snakes and tortoises.

Arthur Rickwood site Mepal. Picture: Steve Williams.Arthur Rickwood site Mepal. Picture: Steve Williams.

Monkfield Nutrition wants to move to the former Arthur Rickwood Experimental Husbandry Farm just off the A142 between Chatteris and Mepal.

The company supplies reptiles, reptile related products and reptile food to pet shops, zoos, schools and universities across the UK and Ireland.

It began trading in South Cambs in the village of Wendy from where its expansion has continued and has become the largest breeder of captive bred reptiles in the UK.

Expansion continued with room needed for snakes, lizards, tortoises and breeding leopard geckos, later renting space at Bourn airfield.

Arthur Rickwood site Mepal. Picture: Steve Williams.Arthur Rickwood site Mepal. Picture: Steve Williams.

Monkfield says its business is “relatively labour intensive” with 35 of their 95 employees working on live food production and 40 staff preparing the products for delivery to customers.

The company says a move to the Arthur Rickwood site presents them with an opportunity “to start expanding in a way that has not been possible over the last few years. “

The site would initially be used to expand existing lines or into new lines that have not previously been possible.

Monkfield says that if planning permission is granted then the breeding of worms would be an immediate activity to start on site.

“Currently these are bought in from other suppliers but they have now reached a turnover where it becomes viable to do these themselves,” says a statement to East Cambs planner.

“In addition locust production is expanding fast, and they currently use around 12 - 14 tonnes of fresh brassicas per week for feed.

Their current site is in an area where the soil type would not support brassica growing, whereas Arthur Rickwood is ideally suited.

“Some could be grown on their land at Arthur Rickwood, and the rest contracted to local farmers.”

Monkfield also plan to set up small breeding colonies of crickets at Arthur Rickwood site as ‘insurance’ against disease at their South Cambs site.

The statement adds that all reptile expansion would happen at the Arthur Rickwood site, and bulk frozen would also be stored and re packed there, providing jobs for local people.

A national pet chain has plans to open 200 more stores by 2020, and in order to retain this contract, Monkfield “need to be able to expand with them. Other multiple pet chains exist but Monkfield has not had the space to pitch for their business (between them they have around another 250 stores).”

Included are proposals to turn three houses on the site into dormitories to house up to 15 workers and further hostel style accommodation would be added.

The application is now before East Cambridgeshire District Council.

PANEL

The site in Mepal Fen was given to the nation for experimental husbandry purposes by Alderman Arthur Samuel Rickwood CBE of Chatteris in 1963.

He became one of the country’s most progressive and well-known farmers having started with an acre of land given to him by his father, William.

Ald Rickwood built up a farming empire covering 9,000 acres in the Isle of Ely, Norfolk and Suffolk. He earned himself the titles of ‘The Carrot King’ and ‘The Farming Millionaire’.

FACT BOX

Monkfield sell between 700,000 and 800,000 locusts per week, and they are packed by number into small plastic tubs, polypropylene bags and cardboard boxes, again depending on customer preference.

They also produce around 2 to 2.5 million crickets a week from their South Cambs site and a further 1 to 1.5 million at another site.

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