TELEVISION twitcher Bill Oddie and MP Derek Foster sang the praises of an innovative company when they officially opened its new headquarters.

As vice-president of The Wildlife Trusts, the naturalist and former Goodie star is fronting a scheme to save Britain's diminishing songbirds.

WildCare Dairy Products produces wildlife-friendly milk by paying premium prices to farmers who agree to dedicate ten per cent of their land to wildlife habitats.

A contribution from sales of the White and Wild milk brand is made to The Wildlife Trusts for conservation projects across the UK.

Mr Oddie said: "As a boy I remember farm fields teaming with birds but sadly the numbers have fallen drastically, I could name so many species that have virtually disappeared.

"Fortunately it is not too late to change that, and I'm confident this scheme can work by giving farmers an opportunity to help wildlife thrive again."

The company, based at Etherley Business Park, near Bishop Auckland, was formed through a farmers' co-operative that had been started in the region to help farmers trade in bulk, with financial support from Defra's Rural Enterprise Scheme.

Managing director of WildCare Ken Whiteley said: "We've seen that buyers are prepared to spend a few pence extra when they know the milk have been produced in an environmentally friendly way.

"Sainsbury's already stocks the milk and the Co-op, Safeway, BP forecourt Connect stores and hopefully other stores will follow so we'll see a growth in distribution.

"This means we want more farmers to join the scheme. We started with a network of 70 in Ayrshire and already have 20 wanting to take part in this area, which is where this all started."

MP Derek Foster added: "I'm delighted to be involved in this scheme.

"After the pain of foot-and-mouth and after the worst prices in farming for 25 years, farmers need something other than diversification.

"This is a wonderful example of people using their imagination to benefit farming, wildlife and the environment and gives the retail trade an exciting new product."