CONSERVATIONIST Bill Oddie was in attendance when local MP Derek Foster officially opened a new business park near Bishop Auckland on Friday.

The park at High Etherley is home to a successful brand of milk and, as vice-president of the Wildlife Trusts, the former Goodie is promoting a scheme aimed at conserving Britain's diminishing songbird population through sales of White & Wild.

White & Wild is a revolutionary, wildlife-friendly milk - highlighted in the D&S Times last April - devised by WildCare Dairy Products.

It was launched in the House of Commons, where it gained the support of Environment Secretary Michael Meacher.

Every litre sold gives the farmer a premium while also giving a contribution to The Wildlife Trusts for conservation work.

The company was born out of Agri-Trade Direct, a farmers' buying consortium, and is aimed at developing the White & Wild brand.

Managing director Ken Whitley said the milk had successfully come through its commercial trial with Sainsbury's and was now one of the supermarket's core products.

"It survived the trial and proved conclusively that the general public was willing to pay extra to support wildlife friendly farming," he added.

"Bill Oddie is putting White & Wild on the map, and I have to thank him for that. The Trusts have 370,000 members who are potential customers."

The Co-op, BP forecourts and Budgens have also come on board, with Safeway due to put it into 100 of its astores next month. Asda is also giving the product serious consideration.

Mr Oddie pronounced himself delighted to be at the business park as part of promoting the milk.

"I am usually called upon to dispense doom and gloom in relation to the decline of songbirds, and it is good to have something positive to report instead," he said.

"It's not difficult to manage a farm in such a way that wildlife will come back."

In declaring the business park open, Mr Foster, who had been instrumental in the House of Commons launch, said he was thrilled to be involved in a small way.

"We have an innovative, exciting project happening within Teesdale Council's area and I am proud to be associated with it," he said.

It was a wonderful example of bringing people together to benefit farming, wildlife and the environment, while giving the retail trade an exciting new product to market. "This is a team effort, like every successful venture," he added.

Initially, 50 farmers in Ayrshire were supplying the milk, with others in Yorkshire, Cumbria, Cheshire and Lancashire then added. As the product's popularity grew, so would the number of farmers, in a kind of snowball effect, said Mr Whitley.

The brand has been established with financial support from Defra's England Rural Development Programme, via its rural enterprise scheme.

The initiative was later praised by Tony Seaman, director of development services with Teesdale District Council, who attended the launch.

"We gave them a Small Business Grant of £2,000 in 2001 for what seemed like a really exciting idea and we are delighted that it has gone from strength to strength," he said.

"We have supported about 50-60 local businesses over a ten-year period, but we don't get many applications from this side of the district."

Producers who want further information can contact Agri Trade Direct on 01388 835566.

For details of schemes in the ERDP, contact Defra rural development service on 0191 2141800 or visit the web site on