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Understanding the living heritage of bere barley for a more sustainable future

Scientists discussed heritage of bere barley in Orkney (c) James Hutton Inst
"It seems that bere has been saved from the brink of extinction and those precious grains left by our ancestors all those years ago may give us some tangible benefits today in supporting rural communities, human health and environmental and agricultural sustainability"

The profile of bere barley, its potential as a source of traits for human and environmental health and as a source of living heritage was highlighted at an event recently held on and around the mainland of Orkney, featuring a range of lectures, demonstrations, tours and product tastings.

Organised by the James Hutton Institute and the Agronomy Institute at the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) in Kirkwall, the event was supported by the Scottish Government, through RESAS and the EU Northern Periphery and Artic Programme Northern Cereals project, the Birsay Heritage Trust, Bruichladdich Distillery and Swannay Brewery.

Sixty-eight delegates from a range of stakeholder groups including scientists, educators, funders, regulators, growers, distillers, brewers, bakers, charitable trusts, archaeologists, artists and the interested public were brought together to discover the potential of bere.

After a presentation by Peter Martin (UHI) on the agronomic characteristics and recent history of bere production, Tim George from the James Hutton Institute discussed how the crop harbours useful genetic diversity, due to its adaptation to the very specific environment of Orkney for at least a thousand years.

“This means it has some potential traits that will allow us to tackle global issues such as adaptation of agriculture to climate change and food security. Bere has some unique traits which allow it to cope with a range of stresses and has unique abilities to cope with issues related to alkaline soils such as micronutrient metal deficiencies.”

The event provided an overview of past and current uses of bere barley, plus a look at how bere got established in Orkney and how it could be used for food and drink, alternative products and as a source of genetic diversity for future barley varieties. The scientific programme included talks by experts from the University of the Highlands and Islands, University of Copenhagen (Denmark), the Rowett Institute and Manchester University.

Bere products available to sample at the event included bannocks, biscuits, Bruichladdich single malt, Swannay Brewery Scapa Bere, and Valhalla Brewery Island Bere beers. There was also the chance to try some paper making with pulp made from bere straw. Jean Duncan, resident artist at the University of Dundee, demonstrated this along with some of the prints she had made of bere-related art on the paper made from bere.

Information presented at the event will be used in a book on bere being written by Liz Ashworth, to be published in the autumn, and in a newsletter article for AgriFood KTN. A number of important links were made and the organisers are confident that a large number of collaborations and novel initiatives will come from this event.

Tim George commented: "It seems that bere has been saved from the brink of extinction and those precious grains left by our ancestors all those years ago may give us some tangible benefits today in supporting rural communities, human health and environmental and agricultural sustainability."

More information from: 

Bernardo Rodriguez-Salcedo, Media Manager, Tel: +44 (0)1224 395089 (direct line), +44 (0)344 928 5428 (switchboard) or +44 (0)7791 193918 (mobile).

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Printed from /news/understanding-living-heritage-bere-barley-more-sustainable-future on 10/12/18 08:42:41 PM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.