Deben Oysters -
Large shells have been found in the fresh water ditches at Shottisham Creek and Bawdsey Fleet which suggest that in the medieval period, before the river walls were built, native oysters thrived in the River Deben. Certainly in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century there were organized oyster fisheries in the Deben, near Shottisham Creek and Green Point. The Green Point oysters where worked out by the West Mersea fishermen in the 1920s and in the 1960s there was an attempt to revive oysters below the Ramsholt moorings with French methods of cultivation. This didn’t last long, but there were still a few native oysters in the Deben in the early 1980s. It is believed that an oyster disease wiped them out.
There have been other very small-scale shellfish fisheries on the Deben. Until the 1920s winkles were harvest at Ramsholt and sold locally. ‘Kio’ Collins of Alderton used to gather up winkles on the cant edge and then go around the district with a donkey selling them. During the 1930s Depression unemployed men set up a mussel cleaning plant on Waldringfield beach and sold to the public, probably following older unrecorded practices. John Warner revived this practice during several winters in the early 1980s
In 1988 Geoff Pearce, Alan Davidson and Robert Simper started Ramsholt Oysters with Pacific oysters that can be harvested all the year round. After three years Geoff Pearce and Robert Simper left the venture, but Alan Davidson continued cultivating oysters for about a decade. These were sold to a merchant at West Mersea, which may well have been a very old practice, because there is no real evidence that oysters have ever been marketed as Deben oysters.
In about 2000 the Simpers, Robert and his son Jonathan, began monitoring oyster growth in the Deben. When Jonathan’s son Harry expressed interest in oyster farming they travelled around looking at shellfish cultivation in southern England.
The water in the Deben, after lengthy testing, proved to be, possibly, some of the cleanest in England and Wales. However it is still important to put shellfish through a purification plant before sale to the general public. Jonathan sent up a purification plant at Ramsholt Lodge Farm.
In 2010 Jonathan began the time consuming task of getting all the necessary permissions to start a shell fish farm on the Deben. This included renting a creek off the Crown Commissioners. Legal and technical advice came from David Gerard of the Shell Fish Association and further advice came from Richard Haward at West Mersea and Maldon Oysters who showed us over their purification plants. Oyster spate was bought from Guernsey and equipment was purchased from Thornham in north Norfolk were an oyster farmer was retiring due to poor health.. .
To work the Deben Oyster Fishery Gus Curtis is repairing the former Thorpeness beach boat Shady Nook at Pin Mill. Eversons, at Woodbridge, built this boat in 1955 and she was the last to fish off Thorpeness beach, was worked by Graham Westrup until 2005. Her owners, John Westrup and Tony Ralph gave this boat to Robert and Jonathan Simper ‘because they knew they would restore her.’
Deben Oysters has given them a reason to restore the Shady Nook, but it will be the third former Thorpeness fishing boat the Simpers have had restored! The first was the Pet, probably built in 1904, which in 1981 was restored back to her original dipping lug rig. At the time there were only about four other dipping luggers in the British Isles, now about 140 have been restored.
In 1994 the Three Sisters was totally rebuilt and given the original dipping lug rig and an engine. Originally Hunt had probably built her at Slaughden Quay, in 1896. Now it is the Shady Nook’s turn, but she will have a winch added to lift the oyster trays from the bottom of the oyster creek.
Simper Farms started Deben Oysters early in the summer of 2011 and plan to have oysters for sale from the autumn.
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