Page 11

THE MIN EHEA D & EXMOOR CHRONICLE

FEAT U R E

page 11

PORLOCK BAY OYSTERS BEST OYSTERS IN ENGLAND?

Racing against the incoming tide - photo by Maureen Harvey

Maintenance on the site - picture by Maureen Harvey

With an ‘A’ classification from the Food Standards Agency, the ONLY site to achieve this for our Pacific Oysters in the whole of England and Wales. And described by top local chef, Andrew Dixon of The Café Porlock Weir, as ‘the best flavoured oysters he has ever tasted’, we may well have the finest oysters in England and Wales.

We had to set up a trial to ensure that the oysters would grow, be fit for human consumption and were commercially viable. But to do this we needed money and so we started to apply for grants. The first one we obtained was from the Fishmongers Company, one of the ancient liveried companies in London, who described us as the first sustainable, community shellfish project in the country. That gave us credibility But how did Porlock Bay Oysters start? What and was followed by a generous grant from the follows is a heart-warming story of community Exmoor National Parks Authority partnership spirit and enterprise, coupled with the fascinating fund, together with another grant from Porlock process of growing oysters. Parish Council. Porlock is an idyllic village nestling between romantic Exmoor and the Bristol Channel. But like many villages it is struggling to survive. An hour’s journey from Taunton or Bridgewater, it is geographically remote with poor infrastructure. These days there is little employment aside from tourism and farming. As a consequence less than a third of school leavers stay in the area compared with average for England. So what was to be done? Back in 2012, Porlock Parish Council, set up a group of people with business experience who called themselves ‘The Porlock Futures Group’. Their remit was to, ‘Identify and deliver projects of benefit to the local community, which are in line with our heritage and environment’. Specifically we look at projects that will create jobs, help the local economy and generate profit. This profit will be used to develop more community projects. One of the first ideas was to farm mussels. That led us to contact Tony Kenyon, who a couple of years before had produced a proposal to set up an oyster business. So with Tony joining our group, oysters and mussels became our first project.

We also had the wholehearted support from Mark Blathwayt, the owner of Porlock Manor Estates who own Porlock Weir and the foreshore. We had metal trestles made up and installed by Allerford Forge. Oysters were placed in open meshed plastic sacks and strapped to the trestles using rubber bands made from lorry tyre inner tubes. These were placed at the Mean Low Water Level. And then we let nature take its course. All that this method of oyster farming requires is for the sea water to cover them and then they open their shells and feed off the nutrients in the seawater – completely natural. Unfortunately nature did take its course rather too much with the mussels in that the seagulls ate them!! So we have given up mussels for the time being. Our trial was a spectacular success. Our oysters grew well. We obtained an A classification from the Food Standards Agency. Monthly samples of oysters are sent to the government testing station at Porton Down. Our ‘A’ classification is the best there is showing the least amount of E.coli.

The end product - photo by Maureen Harvey

We now had to set up a commercial business. We registered as Porlock Futures C.I.C. This is a Community Interest Company which means that all profit will be for the community. Six of us are volunteer, unpaid directors. After a year of intensive work we obtained a £75,000 grant from ‘The Power To Change Fund’. We then invited the people of Porlock Bay (about 850 households) to grant us loans for 5 or 7 years of no more than £1000 each. To date they have loaned us £107,000!!! We have to pay it all back but this gives us excellent financial security for the first years of the business. Throughout the venture we have been overwhelmed by the interest of the press. We have been on BBC Countryfile, BBC TV Points West, radio, local and national newspapers and magazines. Indeed as I write this article we are preparing for an ITV Countrywise filming session with Ben Fogle and an article for the Weekend Telegraph Best of Britain series. And so we have started. At last we had the money to buy our stock. We have bought over 800,000 oysters, mainly baby seed and some part grown. 80,000 of those were assorted sized part grown oysters. They came by lorry all the way from Scotland and were delivered to Minehead harbour. They weighed 3 tons. One of our local skippers David James had to use three boats. Heavily laden they struggled round the headland, past Hurlestone Point and dropped them on the exposed beach at Redsands. We had just 4 days to build 70 trestles by Allerford Forge on the beach, transfer the oysters into our mesh bags and strap them to the trestle. We did it – just. We have employed 4 part time workers. We have built a Depuration (purification) and

packaging plant and our biggest oysters are nearly big enough to harvest. And then, 12 of our best local restaurants, hotels and retail outlets have signed up with us. Like all good things, Porlock Bay Oysters will be worth waiting for. Roger Hall – Porlock Bay Oysters http://www.porlockbayoysters.co.uk/

3 tonnes of seed oysters on they’re way to Porlock bay.

Profile for Minehead & Exmoor Chronicle

Minehead & exmoor chronicle on line  

Welcome and a very warm one at that - to the very first issue of the Minehead & Exmoor chronicle a new free newspaper for the local communit...

Minehead & exmoor chronicle on line  

Welcome and a very warm one at that - to the very first issue of the Minehead & Exmoor chronicle a new free newspaper for the local communit...

Advertisement