Our family farm on the north Essex coast has adapted through the years as the main focus of the business has changed – from sheep, to arable, to dairying to habitat management and diversification. We are lucky to live and work on a beautiful part of the East Anglian coastline, with London just an hour down the road. However, farming is a tough business in which to survive and on top of the economic challenges we face a long term threat to the sea walls protecting the farmland, as a result of sea level rise and climate change.
2006…sea buckthorn comes on the scene
David Eagle is the fourth generation of the family to manage Devereux Farm and it was he who first came across sea buckthorn, in 2006. At the time he was looking into opportunities for alternative crops to grow alongside our arable crops of wheat, barley, oil seed rape and beans. Dr John French from the University of East Anglia, who was then head of the InCrops Research Institute, suggested he look into a little spiny shrub called sea buckthorn.
2008…an exciting seminar
After two years of research, in 2008, David and his son Ben attended a seminar in Chatteris, Cambridgeshire which was all about ‘new opportunities for horticultural producers’. Sea buckthorn was one of the ‘opportunities’ being discussed and Ben and David were sufficiently excited after the event that they decided to put a few plants in the ground at Devereux Farm…
2009…plants go in the ground
Some German and Finnish varieties were sourced from producers on the continent and were planted in Essex in 2009. In the same year, David attended an international sea buckthorn conference in Siberia with Dr Mark Coleman from the University of East Anglia. This led to some Siberian varieties being planted on the farm in 2010.
2011-2012…more plants and a small harvest
2011 and 2012 saw more Siberian plants in the ground, as well as the introduction of some Latvian varieties and the first (small) harvest of the German planst that were put in the ground in 2009. From these berries some product trials were carried out, using the vast range of products available in Europe as inspiration. In 2011 the British Sea Buckthorn Company (BSC) itself was founded.
2013…another international conference
David was learning huge amounts about the plant throughout this period, both by practical observation in the fields and by meeting and speaking to sea buckthorn experts from across the globe. In 2013 he and Bee, David’s wife, attended the 6th Conference of the International Sea Buckthorn Association, which was held in Potsdam, Germany. A visit to a thriving sea buckthorn farm which had developed its own products drove further investigation into market opportunities.
2014…academic research, another conference and product development
BSC sponsored a Medical Research Council literary review regarding cardiovascular implications of taking sea buckthorn supplements. The results were published in the Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition. Further, David spoke at the 3rd European Workshop on Sea Buckthorn (Euroworks), which was held at Naantali, Finland. The plants continued to grow and the Siberian varieties were beginning to develop a crop at hearvest time, if very small. BSC launched its first equine product – BSC SeaBuckthorn for horses – and we co-founded the UK Sea Buckthorn Association (UKSA), which aims to build stronger connections between those with an interest in sea buckthorn in the UK.
2015-2016…growing media interest and new products
The last couple of years have been very exciting as we work towards our first major harvest of the plants on our farm as well as working with our European and international partners to provide UK customers with quality sea buckthorn. We have extended our equine range and continue product development for our human products. We have given interviews to national and regional based journalists, including for BBC Farming Today and the East Anglian Daily Times. Great to see that interest is growing in this extraordinary plant.
The Future…new products, new plants
We are excited to build on our momentum and continue to develop our offering at BSC. Sea Buckthorn brings the potential for so many different opportunities and we look forward to taking you on our journey with us. It is a fascinating plant with so much to give us.