ORKNEY livestock farmers have been left in turmoil after the immediate closure of its Hatston abattoir, due to a lack of "further investment".

After five years of council support, which saw funding of around £1 million being spent on the set-up, the Orkney Islands Council has taken the decision that it "can't continue to provide access" to the council-owned abattoir.

The abattoir has been leased and operated on a reduced basis since 2012 by a consortium of local butchers known as Orkney Meat Processors Ltd, and the decision was made by the council in conjunction with the consortium.

Discussions are set to take place over the next few months in order to consider long-term options.

It has been recognised for the past six years that the abattoir is too big for current and predicted throughpupt, and therefore much of the plant and equipment is now in need of "signifcant" reinvestment, regardless of the £1 million already spent.

In order to soften the blow of this predicted clousure, the council launched a £50,000 challenge fund in December in order to encourage local businesses to come up with a way of providing more "sustainable" abattoir services on the island, and the council claimed the fund will remain open.

Council director of development and infrasturture services, Gavin Barr, claimed that the decision was based on a "number" of factors, mainly that crucial resources, such as technical staff time, is no longer available.

He added: "We've worked hard with OMPL and spent a great deal of money over the last five years to keep the facility running, but this cannot continue in the long-term, with substantial further investment needed to bring the facility up to the standard that we feel is necessary to continue to provide this service.

"The current arrangement was never going to provide a permanent solution and we can look forward with a clean slate to any lower-cost opportunities that our challenge fund might present, and welcome the positive approach expressed by OMPL on these issues and their willingness to work together on these.

"We are confident in the alternative arrangements that local butchers have put in place, and there should be no knock effect to meat supplies in Orkney."

It is now expected that OMPL butchers will make arrangements to ship livestock south to Dingwall for slaughter before products are returned to Orkney to keep up with local demand.

More information to follow with this breaking news story in next week's issue of The Scottish Farmer.