LARGE-scale factory farming could spell disaster for the countryside, an author has warned.

In his new book Farmageddon, co-written with The Sunday Times political editor Isabel Oakeshott, Philip Lymbery has claimed that Britain faces a wave of industrial farms and blames cheap meat as the main cause.

Mr Lymbery will speak at 4pm tomorrow in Oxford Martin School for the Oxford Literary Festival, sponsored by the Oxford Mail’s sister paper The Oxford Times.

He said: “The countryside has been decimated over the years and common spaces have suffered drastic decline.

“We are also seeing an ebbing away of the quality of our food and at the same time perfectly good food is being fed to factory-farmed animals. And things will get worse unless we do something about it now.”

In 2005 Mr Lymbery became the chief executive of animal welfare lobbying group Compassion in World Farming, after previously working in package design.

He said his views had been shaped by a trip he took to Central Valley in California where he saw “vast plantations of almond trees and heard nothing, no birds and no bees”.

He added: “The crops were all nurtured on a massive scale using pesticides and artificial fertilisers and so the local ecosystem had disappeared.”

Mr Lymbery also saw “mega dairies” with thousands of cows enclosed into small spaces.

He is now arguing that Britons must stop buying cheap meats and invest in free-range and organic products, as well as cutting down on waste, so factory farming will be discouraged.

He added: “We need to start eating everything that we buy, instead of wasting it or throwing it in the bin.

“The Government needs a change of policy geared towards giving people good food. It is not right that people on lower incomes should have to feed their children with poor quality meat.”

But National Farmers’ Union South East spokeswoman Isobel Bretherton said: “Large-scale farms, and specific farming systems, do not mean low animal welfare standards.

“The world is facing a massive challenge to feed an ever-growing population and British farming will inevitably gear up to help meet this challenge. Environmental impacts must be minimised and welfare and production standards must not be compromised.”