Stranraer Oyster Festival – regenerating community, place and the natural environment
30th September 2023
The Oxford Cultural Collective is delighted to support one of the UK’s most dynamic local food festivals.
Stranraer, located in the Southwest of Scotland on the banks of Loch Ryan, known historically as the departure point for ferries to Belfast, is reshaping its image. Its annual community-led Oyster Festival, which attracted over 20,000 visitors from 15th to 17th September this year, has become a powerful catalyst for local economic and environmental regeneration.
The Oxford Cultural Collective assisted with programming of chef demonstrations and talks, bringing high profile contributors to the festival to stimulate visitor numbers and support the event’s broader aims. They were Michael Caines MBE, chef, hotelier, broadcaster and OCC Patron; Felicity Cloake, Guardian columnist and award-winning author; and Julie Lin, chef, restaurateur and broadcaster. They appeared alongside popular chefs Tony Singh MBE and Ryan McCutcheon; food and gardening writer, Helen Cross; and renowned mixologist Massimo Lisi. The programme also featured the national oyster shucking championships, a local food hall, live music, a pyrotechnic aerobatic display and a range of bars and food stalls.
Romano Petrucci, Chair of Stranraer Development Trust, believes the significance of the festival to the town cannot be overstated: “Stranraer Oyster Festival has become a hugely important part of the town’s identity, and a real focus for showcasing the very best that Stranraer and the wider Galloway area has to offer visitors.”
“This event was created by our community to celebrate our place, our produce and our people. We care very deeply about this town, and that care is what has elevated the festival to become a driver for economic change.”
On the partnership with OCC, Petrucci commented: “Inspiring, friendly, passionate and supportive – what more could we have asked for from the guest chefs who visited Stranraer thanks to OCC? The success of this year’s event has surpassed my wildest dreams, and the truly inspirational chefs’ programme played a major part in that.”
Whilst the official impact report for the 2023 festival has not yet been published, it is clear that it will build on previous years’ legacy, which has delivered over £5 million to the local economy, created hundreds of jobs, supported independently owned businesses, provided volunteering and training opportunities for local people and grown tourism in the surrounding area.
The festival is increasingly focused on supporting the natural environment, as noted by Tristan Hugh Jones of the Loch Ryan Oyster Fishery: “Stranraer Oyster Festival has done an incredible job of shining a spotlight on the ecological treasure that lies beneath the water of Loch Ryan – and demand for Loch Ryan natives is soaring.”
Despite Loch Ryan being home to one of the most important native oyster beds in Europe, its success remains something of a hidden story. With almost all of the UK’s native oyster beds having been overfished, to near extinction, oysters from Loch Ryan are being used as the ‘seed’ for numerous oyster restoration projects internationally.
Native oysters, Ostrea edulis, are only available from 1st September to 30th April, with the beds being left undisturbed during the important summer breeding months. Sustainable management of the Loch Ryan oyster bed, which involves harvesting only the largest oysters and returning 95% of each catch to densely laid, well-marked areas, to maximise fertility, has contributed to a massive increase in oyster numbers, from one million to sixty million over the last thirty years. Recognised for their flavour and quality, Loch Ryan oysters are now a staple on the menus of many top restaurants, including The Ritz, Scott’s, Corrigan’s and Wilton’s in London.
The Oxford Cultural Collective has already committed to working with Romano Petrucci and his team, to help build the festival’s reputation and impact in 2024.