A 12-acre field, lying directly below a circle of Neolithic standing stones in rural Aberdeenshire, made history in 2000 as the first commercial-scale area of genetically modified GM oilseed rape to be grown in the UK.
And its farmer, Shirley Harrison, proved to be not just a stout defender of her fields from bands of protesters, but also stood up for the right to trial the technology in Scotland and openly promoted the general principle of genetic modification in agriculture.
She now says she would be first in the queue to cultivate commercial GM crops, and deplores the Scottish government’s attitude.
As one of five trials farmers in Scotland, Mrs Harrison grew and harvested crops of spring and winter GM oilseed rape between 2000 and 2004, and became notorious in the press for patrolling her fields with a shotgun, and placing “Danger – Lady Farmer” signs at the end of her farm road. Despite damage to the crops, the trial was completed.
Mrs Harrison says the biotech companies were confident during the trials that GM crops would be widely grown in the UK from 2004.
“It vexes me that when my fields were growing GM food we were head and shoulders ahead of the rest of the world, and now we have lost all the advantages we had. By taking this stance we’ve set agriculture in the UK back by 15–20 years.”