Last week we read in the local paper that Ashford Borough Council’s Executive Committee has decided to press ahead with a project to brand the town as ‘Ashford: Best placed in Britain’. Our Wye Borough Councillor, Ian Cooling, in his role as ‘Portfolio Holder for Communications, Partnerships, Forums and Consultation’ had chaired the Branding Committee and explained the proposed expenditure. Ashford would be contributing £35,000 to launch the brand but, fear not, other stakeholders will be helping to pay the £350,000 required over the next three years. Cllr Cooling told his fellow councillors that there was a need for the brand to be understood.
It is a great pity that Ashford’s splendid Borough crest has not been better understood. It is said to symbolize the main industries of Ashford with the famous White Horse of Kent resting a hoof on a locomotive driving wheel and holding a hop-cone in its mouth.
Therefore it should not be so surprising to read on Ashford MP Damian Green’s website that a few months ago he was busy celebrating Wye’s hop industry. The occasion? The Hop Research Unit’s Centenary celebration on 21st April in the House of Commons.
‘The event was to celebrate 100 years of hop breeding, and we learned the extraordinary fact that in that time only four men have been responsible at Wye for the scientific breeding of Britain’s hops’, explains Damian.
Wye’s historic hop research base… now doomed to disappear from the village
It was Professor E.S. Salmon who started the programme in 1906 and the College’s Guinness hop research labs were opened in 1935. Since its inauguration in 1947, the Hop Research Station at Wye has remained a unique part of the Wye campus. But the most revolutionary work in hops has been that of the most recent head of department. The breeder of the world’s first dwarf hop varieties, Dr Peter Darby has pioneered radical changes in the husbandry and mechanical harvesting of hop crops. By producing dwarf hops, there has been a huge reduction in the cost of the support (wirework) needed which also saves in the labour of training and harvesting. He has also bred into them resistance to three major fungal diseases and produced a crop where pest control is easier. The very latest variety is even aphid-resistant. He was being awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the Institute of Brewing and Distilling at the special centenary celebration in the House of Commons.
Damian tells us: ‘Quite apart from the pleasure of paying tribute to the work of the college, and being able for an hour or two to set aside the current travails surrounding the future of Wye, it was a treat to see an industry which has reacted to fierce foreign competition by improving the quality of its products.
‘There are far fewer hops grown in Kent than there used to be, mainly because the climate is simply more suitable in other parts of the world. British growers have to respond to the ever-changing demands of beer drinkers, and to provide hops which meet specific demands. The fact the lunch at the Commons contained representatives of the whole brewing industry symbolises the success of the hop growers in providing products that their immediate customers want, rather than simply hoping that they could continue with what they had always done.
‘The reason hop growers can do this is largely because of the scientific work done at Wye and East Malling, and we should hope that this continues for another century. Hop growing is only a small part of the farming industry, but it still deserves celebration and support.’
Well, let’s all hope it does continue for another century — but it won’t be happening on Imperial College’s land at Wye. Defra’s current funding for sustainable hop production in the UK finishes at the end of March 2007 and the huge bank of genetic material built up in the form of living plants (which have their individual attributes recorded in detail on a database) is currently in the process of being moved from the Wye site. Another 30 acres of Imperial College land will soon become available for redevelopment.
So what was that you said about support, Damian? What is Imperial’s response to a national heritage collection — something to build on? What does Ashford Borough Council understand about branding? Perhaps its members are busy having a special slogan prepared for their electorate in the village — ‘Wye: Best place to demolish’.