BRITAIN S first croco-dile farm has opened in Old Hurst. The biggest animal is an eight and-a-half-foot long female called Cuddles. Farmer, Andy Johnson, 36, has set up a breeding programme after importing Nile crocodiles from Africa. Mr Johnson has eight

Andy Johnson

BRITAIN'S first croco-dile farm has opened in Old Hurst.

The biggest animal is an eight and-a-half-foot long female called Cuddles.

Farmer, Andy Johnson, 36, has set up a breeding programme after importing Nile crocodiles from Africa. Mr Johnson has eight crocodiles, one male and seven females, housed in a specially heated building on his land.

Mr Johnson, who also breeds sheep, pigs and deer is now planning to farm the crocs for their meat and is working to ensure that his new venture is sustainable and economically viable.

He says it will be three or four years before he is able to produce any meat from the animals and up to 10 years before it is fully operational.

He said: "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.

"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."

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

Mr Johnson has a wild animal licence to allow him to keep the crocodiles but admits he is wary of the reptiles.

He won't go in the building alone and often employs his wife Tracey, 35, to accompany him inside.

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.:

He added that he was not worried about safety for his two sons, George, aged 11 and Eddie nine.

"The boys are really taken with them. People say crocodiles are dangerous but so is a bull."

He said: "There's definitely a market for the meat. It's white and low in fat with the grain of fish. Some people say it is similar to chicken, but it's not, it tastes of crocodile."

He said he couldn't provide a recipe because he had tried it unflavoured with anything else because he wanted to know what it tasted like.

The Johnsons have a farm shop which will open in June, and on Saturdays visitors will be able to see his crocodiles free of charge.

INFORMATION: Crocodiles are believed to have survived as a species for 230 million years. Their ability to live for up to two years without food is thought to have helped them survive conditions which killed the dinosaurs.