'Biggest' UK tulip grower stockpiles bulbs over Brexit

Tulip field at sunset in west Norfolk
Image caption The west Norfolk fields are the largest outdoor commercial tulip crop in the UK

The UK's biggest outdoor commercial tulip grower has said it has been stockpiling bulbs as uncertainty over Brexit continues.

Belmont Nurseries, near King's Lynn, said the future of the UK's relationship with the European Union (EU) was a cause of major concern.

"We're very much UK based, but we do also sell to Europe," nursery director Mark Eves said.

Yellow and orange tulips in west Norfolk field Image copyright BBC/Martin Barber
Image caption There about about 17 varieties of tulips in the field of nearly 30 million stems
Mark Eves of Belmont Nurseries
Image caption "In the four days before Mother’s Day we supplied nearly four million stems to UK supermarkets," Mark Eves said

The nursery said it brought forward a lot of its Dutch imports to give itself a "buffer" while it awaits further movement in Brexit talks.

Mr Eves said the decision was taken because of fears of any delays at British ports that could be caused by Brexit.

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"If the lorry is held up at port for any length of time the bulbs simply won't get the fresh air they need blown across them during transport which means they won't flower - basically, they'd be ruined."

The EU has granted the UK a six-month extension, eliminating the immediate threat of a no-deal Brexit.

Close up of pink and yellow tulips Image copyright BBC/Martin Barber
Image caption The heads are removed from the tulips so the flowering energy returns to the bulb to make it stronger

Mr Eves said: "We haven't got a problem with Brexit, we've got more problem with MPs not knowing how much sugars they want in their tea - let alone what they are doing to sort out trade deals.

"I appreciate the complexities, but the fact they can't agree with themselves - it's disappointing, to say the least."

Field of red tulips in west Norfolk Image copyright BBC/Martin Barber
Image caption The Belmont Nursery fields are the largest outdoor crop grown in the UK
Aerial view of Norfolk tulip fields Image copyright BBC/Martin Barber
Image caption It takes about two year for this crop to go from bulb production to stems suitable for supermarket sales

In 25 years, Belmont has reached the point where it is producing about 75 million bulbs a year.

None of the millions of tulips in the field, which is not open to the public, make it to a vase - when the time is right the flowers are beheaded by giant mower-like machine to remove the petals.

Tulips in Norfolk field Image copyright Craig Dunbar/igersnorfolk
Image caption A rogue colour in a row looks beautiful, but it is not what the tulip producers want

"People still wonder why we take the heads off, saying it seems such a waste, but if we don't take the head off we don't get the higher quality bulb and this is all about getting the best quality bulb we can," Mr Eves said.

"It's a challenge every year with the weather- so to see them growing well is an absolute pleasure."

Norfolk tulip fields Image copyright BBC/Martin Barber
Image caption The rogue colours in the row are removed to ensure a consistent bulb stock goes back to the glasshouses


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