November 24, 2013 at 12:01 am #1217MikeKeymaster
Britain’s food under threat: Buy now while stocks last
Cromer crabs are the latest local delicacy to be threatened with extinction.All across the UK, our traditional dishes are dying out.Martin Hickman and Geneviève Roberts report
Published: 31 May 2006
Cromer crabs, East Anglia
It may be one of East Anglia’s most famous delicacies, but the Cromer crab has suffered a “catastrophic” season, with the number of crabs caught off the Norfolk coast falling to an all-time low. Fishermen blame over-fishing of adult brown crabs elsewhere on the east coast for their disappointing catches, and say this is the third season in a row when the catch has been half what they would expect during the season (April to June). It is also feared that offshore dredging and changes in sea temperature caused by global warming could be disrupting breeding patterns.
The dwindling Cromer crab stock is being investigated by the Eastern Sea Fisheries committee. Matthew Mander, clerk and chief fishery officer, said: “We’ve certainly recorded lower than expected catches this spring, but at the moment it’s too difficult to ascertain how much effect this colder than average winter has had.
We are monitoring it to see if it continues. If it does, it would be worrying.”
Bakewell tart, Derbyshire
According to bakewelltartshop.co.uk, the recipe for Bakewell tart came about in 1820 when a Mrs Greaves, landlady of the White Horse Inn in Bakewell, invited friends round for dinner. She was busy entertaining, so told her cook to make a pudding. “She told her to mix an egg mixture with a secret ingredient into a pastry case and spread strawberry jam on top. The cook was inexperienced so misunderstood Mrs Greaves’ instructions, and poured the egg mixture onto the jam instead, therefore making a tart, not a pudding.”
Thanks to its ingredients – butter, sugar, eggs, almonds and strawberry jam – the tart is hardly conducive to healthy living. And therein lies the problem. In the health-conscious 21st century, sales of Bakewell tarts are plummeting. According to figures for The Grocer magazine, revenue from Mr Kipling’s Bakewell Tarts slumped by 31 per cent to £9m last year, giving its owner, conglomerate RHM, a touch of indigestion.
Kentish apples, South of England
Kent’s orchards, a sea of blossom in springtime, won it the title of “the garden of England”. Now its apples have fallen victim to foreign competition, changing tastes and the demand for housing. Although the UK has around 2,000 apple varieties, only a handful end up on the supermarket shelves. There, they compete against cheaper but less tasty foreign apples from as far away as Chile and China. A survey by Friends of the Earth last year found just 40 per cent of apples on sale in British shops and market were home-grown. FoE calculated that apples shipped from New Zealand had travelled almost 20,000 km – almost as far as the average UK car travels in a year. Growers in the apple-producing areas of Kent, Somerset and Devon, have often chosen to grub up their orchards and plant other crops, or sell off the land for development.
According to the producers’ association, British Apples and Pears, there were around 1,500 registered growers in 1987. Today there are only 500.
Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs, Gloucestershire
Intensive farming techniques left the Gloucester Old Spot, the oldest pedigree spotted pig in the world, fighting for survival with only 100 pigs left in existence. In the early 20th century, pigs were mainly raised by smallholders and foraged in orchards and fields in the Berkeley Vale region. But after the First World War, farming techniques became more intensive and Old Spots did not adapt to the indoor pens introduced in the 1930s. By the 1950s, the breed was in grave danger of becoming extinct. A Worcestershire farmer, George Styles, became so alarmed that he set out to save the pigs, breeding them on his farm.
While the Old Spots are still listed as endangered by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, there are now over 600 breeding females across the country. The pigs’ survival now looks secure, thanks to the growing organic movement; the animals prefer life outside, farmers benefit from the breed’s ability to produce healthy litters twice a year and consumers like the taste.
Grimsby cod, Humberside
Along with Hull, Grimsby once had a thriving trawler industry. But thanks to decades of over-fishing, just a fraction of the cod stocks remain and Britain’s traditional ingredient of fish and chips has soared in price. According to one estimate, about 90 per cent of the spawning biomass (breeding cod) that once swam the North Sea has been lost. Supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s and Asda will no longer stock North Sea cod and conservationists fear that stocks off the British coast will collapse – as they did off the eastern coast of Canada in the early 1990s. The International Council for Exploration of the Seas has recommended no cod be caught in the North Sea. But year after year, EU politicians have ignored the advice and set more quotas. Grimsby still has a big fish market: it sells “containerised” frozen cod and other fish caught by vessels from Iceland and Norway. These countries manage their own fish stocks and have plenty of fish.
Blackcurrants, Herefordshire and Worcestershire
Global warming could ruin the blackcurrant, the constituent of one of the country’s favourite drinks.
Indeed, the pharmaceutical group that owns Ribena, GlaxoSmithKline, has become so worried by the problem that it has asked scientists to cross-breed varieties that will thrive in increasingly mild winters.
Ribes nigrum needs harsh winters and heavy frosts to ensure its bushes are dormant until spring. Blackcurrant growers, based mainly in Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Somerset, Kent and East Anglia, have noticed that crops, worth about £10m a year, are suffering and the Met Office has told them they will not be able to grow varieties currently in production within 15 years. Dr Gillian Fraser, a lecturer at Reading University, who has carried out research for GlaxoSmithKline – which buys 95 per cent of the UK blackcurrant crop – said: “By crossing varieties it is possible to create new types which will be able to cope. It isn’t all doom and gloom – but more research needs to be done.”
Scottish wild salmon, Scotland
Populations of wild Scottish salmon have been struggling to survive in Highland rivers – in marked contrast to the abundance of farmed salmon. Almost all the salmon now on supermarket shelves is farmed.
According to the Atlantic Salmon Trust, global warming is damaging the wild salmon population. Dick Shelton, a spokesman for the trust, said: “Changes in marine climate is the primary difficulty for salmon and it is a problem on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s also a problem in the Pacific and there have been major changes even in Antarctic eco-systems.”
But some conservationists also claim that wild salmon, such as those in the river Tay, have been damaged by farmed salmon – notably by infection by sealice and from interbreeding. Salmon farming in Scotland’s sea lochs is now a major industry and conservation bodies have called for farms to be sited away from the mouths of rivers, where migrating wild fish are most likely to be affected.
Stilton, The Midlands
Stilton has come under the beady eye of the anti-salt brigade. As part of its campaign to lower the rate of heart disease caused by salt, the Food Standards Agency came forward with a proposal to reduce Stilton’s salt content from 2.3g to 1.9g – a seemingly small step to help the nation’s health. But cheesemakers in the traditional stilton-making lands of Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire were outraged. Changing the salt content would ruin Stilton; the high salt content is needed to stop the cheese going off, protested the Stilton Cheese Makers Association. It argued that cutting down on the sodium content could make foreign cheeses laden with salt more attractive. “The contribution it is going to make in the nation’s overall consumption of salt is infinitesimal,” complained spokesman Nigel White. Questions were asked in the House of Lords. The Food Standards Agency announced it was having a rethink. Stilton may be safe. But for how long?
Eels are becoming scarce in Somerset, where willow grown on the Somerset Levels was traditionally used to make eel traps (kypes) for use in local rivers. The charity Common Ground is also concerned that the numbers of eels in London rivers are on the decline.
This month, the Environment Agency warned fishermen in Somerset to stay within the law as they try to catch baby eels. It is legal to fish by hand for elvers, which can be sold for up to £600 per kilo to countries in the Far East, but illegal methods had been used to catch the lucrative small creatures, resulting in dangerously low stocks in the River Parrett. Now, day and night patrols are hoping to stop fishermen using oversized nets with ropes and floats to boost their catch.
Eel and elver stocks are down right across Europe and there is concern that over-fishing is endangering the species. Many fishermen, however, have argued that it is climate change which is contributing to the depleted stocks.
Norfolk black turkeys, East Anglia
A turkey census has concluded that not enough people are breeding the rare Norfolk Black.
This breed of turkey has a loyal following at farmer’s markets and Fortnum and Mason before Christmas, but is never likely to be mass produced by farmers because the bird takes double the length of time to mature compared with other breeds.
It is partly the slow-maturation time that led to the turkey’s near extinction in the early 1930s. There were few birds left in the UK and European black turkeys were becoming smaller because of interbreeding.
Farmer Frank Peele started a rescue programme on his farm near Norwich to ensure the breed did not die out. His grandson, James Graham, has continued to breed the turkeys, which he says taste a little like pheasant and have to be hand-plucked. He works closely with the Rare Breeds Survival Trust and hopes that the turkey will be included in schemes to safeguard endangered livestock.
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