Given the sunshine required to grow good strawberries, and the way that rain can damage their development, it makes sense to assume that the brighter, drier regions of southern England would make for the best British conditions. And, conversely, that Scotland can hardly be strawberry country.
“Or so you’d think,” says Peter Stirling, but his own farm at Seahills, on the east coast near Arbroath, seems to be something of a geological oddity. For one thing, it’s the sunniest corner of Scotland, with the added bonus of ‘light-bounce’ from those beams striking the North Sea beside Stirling’s land. The cool northern nights mean that his strawberries “don’t take on sugar in the daytime only to give it away in the evening”, and the temperate climate also tends to mean a minimum of pests and humidity-related diseases.
Having bought the farm in 1986 and grown strawberries on it for 30 years, Stirling didn’t realise how these rare conditions created what he calls a “goldilocks effect” until he worked with agricultural researchers from the James Hutton Institute in Dundee, who studied the nutritional aspects of his produce precisely because so many consumers had commented on “how great our fruit was tasting”. “That’s even compared to strawberries from the south of England. They’re supposed to have a better climate but they can’t match the taste of ours,” he adds.
On one hand, Seahills relies on many of same modern methods that have become industry standard in the last couple of decades – table top systems with computerised sensors to provide the fruit with feed and water as required. On the other, this is the relatively rare strawberry farm that does its growing inside temperature-controlled greenhouses, while drawing on natural resources to the point that Stirling has stopped using pesticides altogether, protecting his crop with predatory insects instead.
“It costs more,” he says, “but we hope our customers appreciate that it’s much healthier for them than mass-produced chemicals.” By the same token, Stirling cuts into his own profits by setting some 20 per cent of his land aside for the protection of its indigenous wildlife. His 400 acres extend across cliffs, beaches and caves that include areas with Special Scientific Interest Status (SSIS) for their rare birds and endangered butterflies. He’s working with the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to develop eight separate habitats, and he has added about five kilometres of clifftop paths to allow for public access on his property.
Produce category manager, Neil Gibson
Driscoll's British strawberries
On clear days, he says, “you can look out and see a pod of dolphins cruising up the coast”. And while this doesn’t directly add value to the business, he believes that “consumers can see what we’re trying to do… they like our story, and they can see the benefits of working so closely with nature”. All the way out in Dubai, so far from this singular farm, the customer can at least try to picture the scene while they eat Seahills strawberries.
“I can promise, they’re like nothing you’ve ever tasted,” says Stirling.
Produce category manager, Neil Gibson says, for our 2021 British strawberry season we have brought together some of the best growers from across the UK. The season kicked off with Driscoll’s Lusa from Seahills Farm in Scotland. We will be selling Hall Hunter Berkshire-grown strawberries under our Spinney’s label. Two favourites from last year, Driscoll’s superb Zara variety from Clock House Farm and Annabel’s Yorkshire-grown Malling Centenary make a welcome return to the shelves in May. We hope you enjoy the season and don’t forget the cream!
Driscoll's finest fruits
Strawberries, blackberries & blueberries