‘Attenborough effect’ sees clinking bottles return to Yorkshire doorsteps amid concerns over plastic

PIC: James Hardisty
PIC: James Hardisty
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It used to be a morning ritual: taking the bottles off the doorstep before the birds could get at the milk, and then creaming off the top for a bowl of corn flakes.

But those who thought it had gone the way of the firelighter and the push lawnmower had reckoned without what the dairy industry is now calling the Attenborough effect.

A milkman in 1983

A milkman in 1983

Concern for the environment, fuelled by Sir David’s footage of detritus from plastic bottles doing harm to sea creatures, has given new life to traditional doorstep deliveries in clinking, reusable glass bottles.

After years of decline that saw the market migrate almost entirely to the supermarket trolley, many of the region’s roundsmen are reporting a sudden and unexpected reversal.

Younger and socially-conscious families, prepared to pay slightly more for the convenience, as well as the environmental benefit, are said to be leading the purge on plastic.

“After David Attenborough’s programmes, the number of new customer requests increased massively,” said Victoria Goodall, whose family dairy is in Scarcroft, north Leeds.

Victoria Goodall  with some of their cows at the TD Goodall Dairy at Scarcroft in  Leeds.

Victoria Goodall with some of their cows at the TD Goodall Dairy at Scarcroft in Leeds.

“What’s nice is that we’re still delivering to the older generation, but this is a completely different demographic. These are people in their thirties, young people who are coming to us for a different reason. Each time something hits the news, the next morning we’re inundated with requests.”

Her firm’s 20 milkmen – some of them sole traders who buy their supplies from Goodall’s herd of 250 Holstein Friesians – deliver to doorsteps in north-east Leeds, Wetherby and Tadcaster.

There, the dimly-remembered customs of putting out the empties before bed, and writing “no milk today” on a note stuffed in the neck of the bottle when the fridge is full, are once gain part of the daily routine.

It’s not only the packaging but the milk itself that hits the sweet spot, Mrs Goodall said. Unlike the supermarket product, her dairy’s silver-top is unhomogenised, so the cream floats to the top in the old fashioned way.

“Some people say their children won’t drink anything else,” she said.

The pattern of newer, younger customers is being repeated across the region. Helen Woodcock, who runs Woodfield Farm Dairies in Mirfield with her husband, Tim, said: “Quite a few people have returned to doorstep deliveries or signed on as new customers after watching Blue Planet and becoming concerned about plastic packaging.

“Lots of new families think fresh milk is a good option for their children and of course older people prefer it because they can’t get out to the shops.”

Just as they did in their electric floats of the 1960s, today’s milkmen carry a range of dairy products, including eggs and yoghurt. But traditional varieties, such as rich gold-top milk from Jersey and Guernsey cows, are harder to find.

“Some people still prefer it,” Mrs Woodcock said, but not too many these days.”

The effect of Lord Attenbor­ough’s programmes have yet to be seen in the annual figures published by the industry body, Dairy UK. But anecdotal evidence suggests that it may have pushed up the proportion of doorstep deliveries to around three per cent.

Large firms like Express Dairies, which became part of Müller, have been largely replaced by smaller operators who have nevertheless embraced electronic payment and other modern advances.

But the personal touch remains. Victoria Goodall, who manages a family dairy in Leeds, said: “The milkman is the only person some older customers see all week.”