Porlock's oyster farms set to make a come back

Somerset County Gazette: PORLOCK has a long history of oyster farming. PORLOCK has a long history of oyster farming.

AN exquisite treat enjoyed in many lavish restaurants worldwide could soon make a return to West Somerset.

Until 80 years ago, Porlock used to harvest oysters and mussels off the coast of the weir.

Now volunteers want to revive the tradition in the hope of encouraging economic growth in the area.

Porlock Futures, a sub-committee of Porlock Parish Council, is a group trying to create jobs in the village, particularly for younger people, and as Porlock is within the Exmoor National Park restrictions and guidelines must be followed.

When the group was approached with the idea of setting up oyster farms, its members were hooked.

Alan Wright, parish council chairman and a member of Porlock Futures, said the group has been working on the plan for almost ten months.

He said: “Shellfish farming is a great idea on so many levels.

“There’s linkage to the history of the area and the farming has a low environmental impact.

“It’s very complicated because you have to contact a lot of different bodies before you can really go ahead with anything.

“We first spoke to a fishery in Devon who were extremely helpful and said what we were doing made sense.

“They put us in touch with the Shellfish Association of Great Britain, who were also extremely helpful and have helped us with our research.”

The group has secured £17,000 in funding from the Exmoor National Park Authority, the parish council and the Shellfish Association to fund a trial which will see the planting of oysters and mussels sourced from Cornwall, and then monitoring them over a year.

It will then be decided if the project will continue, and Mr Wright is hopeful that it will.

He said: “I’m really confident that we’ll set up a proper business in own right because it has worked here before.

“The bonus is that any money made will be used for social enterprise and setting up other community projects.”

So, how do you farm shellfish?

Mr Wright explained that oysters live underwater their whole lives until they are ready to distribute, while mussels are grown on poles because they have to be in an intertidal area.

As to why Porlock suddenly stopped producing oysters, he said: “Local legend has it that other oyster farms elsewhere in the country were in a bit of trouble before one night they came along and stole all the oysters from Porlock.

“Colchester gets the blame, but I’m not entirely sure!”

Residents Mr Wright has spoken to agree that the idea is a good one.

He said: “This is a serious project and one we really think will work.

“We’re on to the next stage, and the idea has been very popular as it really fits with Porlock’s heritage and history.”

It is hoped the trial will start in March.

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