Re­gional & Sea­sonal: The Cor­nish Sea­weed Com­pany

A pas­sion for coastal life has led to a thriv­ing Cor­nish sea­weed busi­ness

Landscape (UK) - - Contents - Words: Julie Brown

the beau­ti­ful water­side vil­lage of Gweek, with its clus­ters of white­washed cot­tages, lies at the head of the Helford River in South Corn­wall, on the edge of a ver­dant land­scape. Once a bustling port, its his­tory dates back to 450BC when it traded tin with the Phoeni­cians, and its name means for­est vil­lage. Now best known for host­ing the Na­tional Seal Cen­tre, it is also home to a sea­weed busi­ness. Owned by Caro War­wick-Evans and Tim van Berkel, The Cor­nish Sea­weed Com­pany was cre­ated five years ago, more by ac­ci­dent than plan­ning. The pair met at univer­sity, and on fin­ish­ing, Caro moved abroad to work in re­new­able en­ergy with re­mote com­mu­ni­ties while Tim in­volved him­self with wildlife and con­ser­va­tion. “A se­ri­ous mo­tor­bike ac­ci­dent brought Caro back to the UK, and she set­tled in Corn­wall,” ex­plains Tim. “For me, the lure of the sea has al­ways been strong, so a move back to the coast was a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion.” Jobs can be hard to find in Corn­wall, so the pair strug­gled. “The turn­ing point came in 2011 when Caro lis­tened to an episode of Farm­ing To­day,” says Tim. “The pro­gramme fea­tured sea­weed; the ben­e­fits of it and how it was farmed in Ire­land. It seemed there was an un­tapped mar­ket in the UK. We both love surf­ing and snorkelling, and ap­pre­ci­ate good food.” Sea­weed is high in vi­ta­mins and min­er­als, in­clud­ing iron and cal­cium. It is sus­tain­able and be­com­ing more pop­u­lar. Though it grows plen­ti­fully on the Cor­nish coast, the pair did not ini­tially have the skills to har­vest and pro­duce it. They turned to Ir­ish com­pany, Al­gAran in County Done­gal, who were keen to help. Caro worked for them for two weeks to learn the trade. “We started small scale, and the first three years were tough,” ex­plains Tim. “We lived in car­a­vans and worked ev­ery day. It fi­nally paid off, as we are now big­ger and more prof­itable than we ever imag­ined.” The busi­ness op­er­ates from a large ware­house shared with a lo­cal salt pro­ducer. The sea­weed is sold di­rectly to restau­rants and food pro­duc­ers as an in­gre­di­ent for sausages and salami. They also have a selection of sea­weeds and skin­care prod­ucts for sale to the gen­eral pub­lic, on­line. At spring low tides, the sea­weed can be picked from the beach. This tra­di­tional method is much bet­ter for the seabed and ecosys­tems than larger-scale ma­chine har­vest­ing. Most of the sea­weed is found around Cover­ack and on the east coast of The Lizard. The north coast of Corn­wall is also pro­duc­tive. At other times, it is reached by div­ing. “Sea­weed grows in abun­dance, but we are only al­lowed to har­vest in par­tic­u­lar

places and def­i­nitely not in a con­ser­va­tion area, or pol­luted wa­ter,” says Tim. “It was tricky to find out who owns the land. It’s a mix­ture of the Duchy, pri­vate landown­ers and the coun­cil. We had to ap­ply for a li­cence to pick be­fore we could trade.” The sea­weed sea­son varies from species to species. At peak times, the com­pany em­ploys six part-time pick­ers and three pack­ers/har­vest man­agers. De­pend­ing on the tides, the pick­ers may only need to wade into the wa­ter. If free div­ing is nec­es­sary, it is to a max­i­mum depth of 16ft (5m), and trusty boat the Cor­nish Sea Bad­ger is called into ac­tion. “I love to dive, as the wa­ter is usu­ally clear and I can watch the fish, jel­ly­fish and spi­der crabs nip­ping about. It’s only if there’s been a storm that the wa­ter be­comes clouded. Some species of sea­weed are hard to find, so it’s more of a chal­lenge than you think. We are in the hands of the moon, tide and swell, and in the end, the sea de­cides if we will get a har­vest or not.” Once picked, the sea­weed is put into bags so it can be weighed to cal­cu­late wa­ter con­tent. It is given a thor­ough wash and then laid on racks in poly­tun­nels to dry in the heat of the sun. This can take from just a few hours to four days. Once dry, it is re-weighed and pack­aged up, ready to sell. Some is made into flakes, us­ing a ham­mer mill, to add to bis­cuits. Tim is in his el­e­ment as a sea­weeder and can­not now imag­ine do­ing any­thing else. “I en­joy eat­ing sea­weed. Fresh spaghetti is my favourite, and it can be eaten cooked or raw. We work hard at ed­u­cat­ing oth­ers on the ben­e­fits of this qual­ity food­stuff. In­ter­est is grow­ing, and I am hope­ful that it will be­come a sta­ple part of the Bri­tish diet in the fu­ture.”

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