Bringing the "Bere" back to Berwickshire

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Bere, the ancient type of barley that gave its name to Berwickshire and the towns of Berwick-on-Tweed and North Berwick, has returned to the county in a trial plot at Paxton South Mains from seed produced in the Western Isles. Now retired farmer and former MP John Home Robertson hopes to work with Heatherslaw Corn Mill to explore opportunities to use Berwickshire’s long-forgotten cereal crop again.

There are records of bere being grown in Berwickshire in 1775, but this old “six-row” variety was superseded by two-row barleys which produce bigger seeds. However, the old crop is still grown on crofts on the Scottish Islands where it is used to make flour for traditional bannocks, brewing, and also for livestock feed. Bere is an ancient “landrace” crop, which was a key part of the diet of our ancestors in the Borders in medieval times - it has a very low gluten content.

Angus MacDonald and John Riley are two of the few remaining bere growers on the island of North Uist, and they have provided seed for the trial plot at Paxton South Mains this year. John Home Robertson said “It is probably about two hundred years since bere was last grown In Berwickshire. I’m very grateful to Dave Harris-Jones of Heatherslaw Corn Mill for milling a preliminary batch of bere flour, - we have been enjoying some experimental bere bannocks at home”.

He concluded, “It is great to be able to learn about the long-lost crop that gave its name to Berwick and Berwickshire. The trial plot has now been harvested, and we are looking forward to working with Heatherslaw Corn Mill to explore opportunities for new applications for a very old crop”.

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