In a move that would gladden the heart of the Walrus and the Carpenter, village volunteers yesterday sank 17,000 oysters off the coast of Porlock in a bid to revive the once thriving local shellfish industry.
The characters in Lewis Carol's Through The Looking Glass found no shortage of oysters when they called for the little creatures to join them in a dangerous walk: "along the briny beach", but in Porlock the industry has been dead for 80 years, and locals blame east coasters for coming and taking all the Porlock stock when disease hit their own.
Porlock Parish Council initiated the new project, Porlock Bay Shellfish, and it has been developed as the first community shellfish farm by community group Porlock Futures.
Experienced business people are involved and if the shellfish project is successful cash could be ploughed back into the community and help start another local business – all to help boost employment.
Mussels will also be farmed. Wooden poles on which the mussels will grow have already been sunk and yesterday metal crates or "trestles", made locally, were installed on the sea bed at low tide. "Seed", medium, and mature oysters were attached to the trestles, in mesh bags, while seeded mussel ropes were attached to the poles.
Monthly testing of water quality and the shellfish themselves will be undertaken by the environmental health department for a year to determine if a certificate can be granted for their consumption.
Porlock Parish Council has contributed £2,000 to funding the scheme, with Fishmongers Hall contributing its maximum grant of £5,000, and £10,000 coming from Exmoor National Parks Authority.
Other help has come from, among others, the Devon and Severn Inland Fisheries and Conservation Authority, Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science, and the Shellfish Association for Great Britain.
Mark Blathwayt, who owns the Porlock Manor Estate where the venture is based, has also been a huge support.
Porlock Futures member David Salter said: "I ended up having this oyster idea because they're one of my favourite shellfish. I went through a lot of American university papers and realised the old oyster industry could be revived.
"We've got triploids and diploids," he explained. "The diploids have two genes – which are mum and dad genes – while the triploids are a hybrid oyster with an extra gene, so they're sterile.
"What happens to them is that they don't spawn, which means that they keep growing, they put on more weight and therefore they provide better-quality meat."