Trials and Tribulations of Commercial Olive Oil Production in the U.K.

The United Kingdom might not be the first location for a commercial olive grove that springs to mind, but Neil Davy, proprietor of Huggit’s Farm in Kent, has other ideas.

Kent, a county in the south of England, has one of the warmest and driest climates in the country. And this is one of the reasons Mr. Davy is confident that olive trees might just have a better than average chance of thriving in an area that’s known as ‘The Garden of England.’

The trees chosen are a mixture of both self-fertile and pollinators, with the idea that this will help to increase the amount of oil yielded from the fruits. All have been specifically planted because of their resilience to the cold, as well as other considerations such as oil content, distinct flavors and resistance to disease. The varieties of olive trees include Frantoio, Picholine and Pendolino.

Snow and Gales

Huggit’s Farm’s olive tree venture began in 2010. After some initial test planting of trees, the winter of 2010/11 proved to be unseasonably harsh, with snow blanketing the countryside. This was followed by a dry and warm summer, and this winter has, so far, been extremely mild.

However, the biggest concern is the stress caused to the trees by wind. The site is located next to ancient sea cliffs and already this winter has been battered by winds of up to 60 mph.

But, as Mr. Davy says, “Although wanting all our trees to thrive, we are really hoping that as we conduct our trials, Mother Nature delivers the worst she can muster to put the trees through their paces.”

“Of the six cultivars we have planted, a couple of trees do look to be struggling, some Leccino and Frantoios particularly. However, other trees of the same cultivar are thriving, so we draw some consolation that it may be those individual trees, rather than the variety, that could struggle.”

Of course, only time will tell if the trees will manage to thrive here. Climate change is very real, and the UK is growing crops that once would never have been considered a possibility. So if the experiment goes to plan, it appears that olive groves, once a sight only seen in Mediterranean climates, could well become a permanent feature of the English countryside.


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This article was last updated January 3, 2015 - 12:35 PM (GMT-5)

  • Tina C.

    It looks like a beautiful landscape. Good luck! I’m looking forward to reading more on this interesting experiment.

    • Neil

      Thank You!

  • AMM

    Mark Diacono, an environmental consultant in Devon, did it back in 2006

    • Neil

      Yes, Mark did, and he’s been very supportive and helpful as we conduct our trials. He’s a great resource for anyone attempting to grow ‘climate change crops’ in Britain.

  • David

    Why bother trying to grow olives here when there is a total glut of olive oil already from Spain and Italy. I say better to plant fruit trees that are indigenous to Kent

    • Neil

      You are right David, there is a glut of oil coming in from Spain and Italy; poor quality oil. On a small scale we do already grow fruit trees that are indigenous to Kent, but this particular part of the farm won’t support those fruit trees, and in many cases there are is is over-supply of those crops already in the area. We also take into account increasing demands of consumers to ‘buy British’, expect integrity in the products they buy and know the provenance of the products. All that aside, our passion is for olives, and we take the view life’s too short not to persue your passion, regardless of whether we succeed or fail.

  • Brian

    I agree with David.  There is a problem here in Catalunya with olive oil producers receiving so little for their crop that some have not bothered to harvest their crop this season.  I cannot see any advantage whatsoever in growing olives in the UK.  The planting of indigenous trees would be much more environmentally (and probably economically) friendly