MORE than one million protein-rich insects are set to be harvested for human consumption at an Eden farm.

Entomologist Howard Bell gave up his day job to work full-time on what he believes is the first farm in the country to offer edible crickets.

"I was contacted a couple of years ago by some people who were importing them and they were wondering about the possibility of producing them in the UK," the 47-year-old explained. "So I said there's potential. I discussed it with my older brother, who runs the family farm, whether we could establish a small facility in one of the buildings on the farm - which we did."

Mr Bell has spent the last two years working on the business called Entovista, building up his stock and getting the crickets ready for market.

Thringill Farm in the Mallerstang valley now houses anywhere between 500,000 and a million crickets, depending on whether or not there has been a 'cull'.

"It is pretty noisy but the human brain is pretty good at dialling it out," Mr Bell said. "I don't even notice it when I'm in there anymore."

The hope is that by the summer of this year the crickets will be commercially available. He said there has already been a lot of interest, including from restaurants in London.

Insect farming uses a fraction of the feed, water and land needed to raise traditional livestock, such as cattle or pigs, meaning more can be produced in a smaller space.

However, Mr Bell said that the current state of technology means that it is unlikely crickets are going to be taking over the meat industry any time soon.

"What we are doing is tapping into the growing market of people who are interested in eating different kinds of things," he said.

"It's not going to be to everyone's taste - some people just have this inherent reflex action, which means they just could not possibly eat any insects. But probably a greater proportion are willing to try and most people who actually try them are quite surprised."

He said that the taste itself all depends on how the insects are prepared but that it is 'characteristic', not unpleasant and 'nutty' when eaten dry.

Mr Bell suggested crickets might be enjoyed in a stir fry or used ground up as a flour. He says 3,000 crickets will make 250 grammes of high protein flour.

"The biggest market for this material is as an ingredient in other food stuffs like biscuits or energy bars so you won't be seeing anything that looks like crickets," he said. "That's probably the easiest sell at the moment because for most people it's easier to put a protein bar in their mouth than a live cricket."