But remarkable things have taken place here - for this is
Long Ashton Research Station.
100 years it's been at the forefront of agricultural research.
And if that sounds dull - think again!
Among the products that we probably wouldn't have without
their efforts are today's high quality Somerset cider, and
the children's blackcurrant drink, Ribena.
up thy zyder
Ashton started life in 1903 as the National Fruit and Cider
Farmers who despaired of producing sour and undrinkable cider
wanted to know what made their cider good or bad.
Over the next 80 years, Long Ashton provided the answers.
Scientists identified the best apple varieties, growing conditions,
and production methods for grateful growers and cider-makers.
Ashton has done a huge amount for the cider industry,"
says Martin Thatcher, whose family has been making Somerset
cider for almost a century.
"They developed a lot of the techniques that are used
today in cider-making.
"They helped to work out what made the cider really good,
batch after batch. That, of course, is something we're reaping
the benefits of now."
helped shape the cider industry
expertise was applied to other fruits - notably pears, but
also strawberries and blackcurrants.
Many varieties of currants still bear the names they were
given by Long Ashton.
when sources of vitamin C dried up in the war years, it was
natural that the government should ask the Bristol researchers
to find a replacement to keep Britain's war babies healthy.
Scientists discovered that blackcurrants were the best alternative
They even found a way of turning the berries into a concentrated
syrup which could easily be mixed up into a healthy and flavoursome
Ribena was born.
For many years it was made in Bristol until production was
moved to the Forest of Dean, where it is still made today.
'Improving on nature'
Ashton continued to innovate on behalf of fruit farmers, notably
breeding shorter trees that were easier to harvest than traditional
They also bombarded young trees with radiation to eliminate
were delighted with this disease-free stock. But questions
were already being asked about this hi-tech science.
is moving to Hertfordshire
1972, John Craven, then a young reporter on the BBC's Points
West programme, asked the station director John Hudson: "Do
you think this messing about with nature could be harmful?"
no, not at all," answered Hudson. "We're not messing
about with nature, we're improving on nature."
1975, the government told Long Ashton to reduce its work on
fruits and cider and concentrate on other arable crops, such
Over the years, research teams made significant advances in
weed control and the effective use of farm chemicals including,
in later years, reducing the amounts needed.
little of the work at Long Ashton attracted the public's attention
until the late 1990s.
Researchers like Dr Nigel Halford were using a relatively
new technology called genetic engineering.
They hoped to improve crops for farmers and consumers by altering
their genetic make-up.
For example, instead of Britain importing flour from America,
they could improve the bread-making qualities of European
plants are going to be healthier, tastier, and last longer,
and require less herbicides and pesticides during production,"
Halford told the BBC at the time.
"It almost sounds too good to be ture, but it's not."
consumers didn't agree. Again the scientists were accused
of meddling with nature.
Prince Charles called the new crops 'Frankenstein Foods'.
The Daily Mail joined the anti-GM campaign and before long,
every major supermarket chain had turned its back on genetically
Halford's view, a great opportunity was lost.
in the UK might be surprised to hear this, but GM crops are
reducing chemical use, increasing farm safety, and increasing
profits for farmers right around the world," he says
"The debate in the UK has undoubtedly been extremely
damaging to what was a plant biotech industry with tremendous
potential a few years ago. Much of that has gone now."
The greenhouses and labs will be flattened
Ashton's fate was sealed in 1999, when a government review
decided to concentrate agricultural research on a single site
at Rothampsted in Hertfordshire.
Research was wound down, staff transferred or retired, and
trees pulled up.
handful of staff remain, waiting for new labs to be completed
But planning permission has already been granted for 350 houses
on the 37-acre site at Long Ashton.
The original laboratory building, glasshouses, conference
hall and canteen, even a modern library building, will all
be pulled down.
all very sad the site's closing," says the research station's
director, Prof Peter Shewry.
"We'll be here probably another three or four months,
and then slowly you'll find the place will close. We'll certainly
miss being a part of the community.
"On the other hand, things do change. I think we should
look forward probably rather than looking back."
villagers, who've enjoyed having up to 240 scientists as rather
peaceful neighbours for a century, are rather sorry to see
the research station close.
so much a part of this village that it is a very great loss
to us," says Angela Neale, the chairman of the parish
"We wish all those who are moving elsewhere well. We
don't look forward to what is taking their place."
Wurzel Tommy Banner investigates Long Ashton Research History
on Inside Out, BBC1 West, 3 March 2003, 7.30 pm
A book - Long Ashton Research Station: One Hundred Years of
Science in Support of Agriculture - has just been published
and is available from the research station on 01275 392181.