Red tape kills our greens - Traditional vegetables wiped out by bureaucrats


Last updated at 23:06 07 December 2007

With exotic names such as Colonel Murphy's and the Black Valentine, they were once common sights in the vegetable plots of Britain.

Now around 98 per cent of our traditional greens have been wiped out, a study claims.

Red tape and modern farming methods have meant that virtually all the vegetables we now eat come from just 20 species of plant.

And the few remaining varieties from the Edwardian and Victorian eras face extinction because of European rules which only allow companies to sell seeds on an "official" list.

Scroll down for more...

The figures were revealed by the gardening charity Garden Organic which runs the Heritage Seed Library designed to preserve traditional varieties and make them available for gardeners.

It says it has saved 800 types of vegetable from the verge of extinction.

They include oddities such as the Afghan purple carrot, Colonel Murphy beans and Ryder's Top O'The Pole French beans.

Colonel Murphy beans are a variety found in the colonel's garden in Porton, Wiltshire, where he grew them after obtaining them from a French girl who smuggled them out of a secret breeding station in France in her stocking during the Second World War.

Another unusual bean in the library is Ryder's Top O'The Pole, from the seed company of Samuel Ryder, who donated the trophy for golf's Ryder Cup. It was donated by a woman who had grown the discontinued variety for more than 30 years.

The pea "Carlin" has been around since Elizabethan times, and the donor's great-great-grandfather was given the variety as a wedding present.

It is traditionally eaten in the North of England on the Sunday before Palm Sunday - perhaps to commemorate the arrival in besieged Newcastle of a shipload of peas in 1644 saving many from starvation.

Other exotic veg include the Afghan purple carrot, which was donated by a UN project manager in Kabul. It is believed that cultivated carrots originated in Afghanistan.

Bob Sherman, director of gardens and gardening at Garden Organic, said: "The 800 endangered varieties in our living collection include all types of common vegetables such as tomatoes, carrots, beans, peas and onions.

"And it's not just vegetable varieties we are losing but the local history, culture, tradition and skills that go with them. Multiple varieties are imperative to protecting the food security of the nation."

Some of the varieties that have vanished were victims of changing tastes. But others were killed off by European regulations, introduced in 1970, which only allowed companies to sell vegetable seeds on an approved list.

Because it costs thousands of pounds to get a species approved by Brussels, many big growers no longer bother producing unusual seeds.

The future of many of the rarer varieties lies with charities like Garden Organic - which sends out seeds for free to subscribers - or with seed swaps between amateur gardeners.

No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now