Brew News - the Yorkshire Tea blog

Protecting birds in Kenya

Our ongoing Yorkshire Rainforest Project has pledged to protect an area of rainforest the size of Yorkshire – and this year we’re focusing our efforts on planting trees in Kenya, where we’re working alongside Nature Kenya (NK) and three community led groups.

Joan Gichuki (that’s Joan in the picture above) works for NK. She’s the organisation’s Local Empowerment Manager, helping to manage our project on the ground – and this is a brief interview with Joan, to give you an idea of the work that’s taking place:

“I chose to work with NK because it provides an opportunity to work directly with local communities on a daily basis.

“My role is to coordinate community conservation actions in Important Bird Areas (IBAs) where NK works.

“I also work to improve the livelihoods of local communities through nature-based enterprise development.

“My work is important because it develops skills for local communities to take conservation actions at the site level. Their response to threats is faster and more effective since they live adjacent to IBAs.

“Looking ahead, I would like to see Kenya’s Key Biodiversity Areas and IBAs restored and secured; people living adjacent to forests and other IBAs able to afford health care, education and other basic necessities including access to clean water, fresh air and food security; and credible community groups with the capacity to participate in decision making processes in Kenya at village, county and national level.

“As for myself, I hope to acquire more skills in the areas of social accountability, governance, management and business development, so that I can be more useful in working with local communities.”

You can read our previous posts on our work in Kenya here and here, and find out more about our Yorkshire Rainforest Project here

Our Yorkshire Rainforest Project looks to Kenya

In 2009, we launched our Yorkshire Rainforest Project, pledging to protect an area of rainforest the size of Yorkshire. Thanks to the support we have received so far we have helped protect an area of Peruvian rainforest the size of the Yorkshire Dales and this year our project is turning its attention to Kenya.

Working alongside Nature Kenya and three community-led groups, we are focusing on three Kenyan forests Mount Kenya Forest, Kikuyu Escarpment Forest and South Nandi Forest. They are home to vulnerable species like the African Elephant and play a critical role in providing water to local communities.

As Kenya’s population grows, so do its businesses – and that means greater demand for natural resources like wood. Timber, used for construction and fuel, has become increasingly valuable, so illegal logging has increased.

Our support will go towards a range of initiatives, including reforesting 95 hectares of natural forest, planting 95,000 fast-growing trees in 95 hectares of land to create community woodlots, and working with tea companies to establish the use of woodlots as a sustainable source of fuel for their machinery. Schools neighbouring the three Kenyan forests will also be given 50,000 trees to create woodlots and Nature Kenya will encourage school children to raise seedlings to plant at home so they can share what they’ve learnt with their families.

For more information on the Yorkshire Rainforest Project and the progress we have made, please visit


Project Rwanda: an Alliance for good

We’ve already discussed how Project Rwanda is making a difference to the quality of life for 10,000 smallholder farmers and is also improving the quality of our luxury Yorkshire Gold blend. This week, we’d like to explain a little about Rainforest Alliance who we work closely with.

You may have noticed the Rainforest Alliance logo on boxes of Yorkshire Gold. Well, the Rainforest Alliance is an independent body that is dedicated to helping people and the environment prosper. By being Rainforest Alliance certified, farmers not only work in a more environmentally and socially conscious way, they are also helped to improve the quality and quantity of the tea they produce, resulting in better prices and more tea to sell.

A big factor in achieving this is education. The Rainforest Alliance works directly with Rwandan tea growers to train them and their workers in better agricultural practices that minimize the effect tea growing has on the land. The farming communities are also supported in developing improved sanitation, health care, schooling, and housing which all help to improve the wellbeing of the farmers we buy from.

Some of the Rainforest Alliances’ key principles involve instilling relatively simple practical steps that tea farmers and workers can adapt to their own needs. These include better waste and water management, soil conservation, tree planting and the use of personal protective equipment.

Let’s take waste management. Tea production can produce waste water that is often, once used, left to stream straight back into rivers. By using a natural water filtration system, consisting of tiered beds of plants, the water is cleaned naturally and allowed to flow safely into the local water supply; proper composting provides a rich and free fertilizer that can be put back on the crop; organic waste can be used to produce natural biogas and recyclable waste can be separated and often sold.

Soil conservation is vital to allow the long term prosperity of a tea farm, not to mention the food security of local communities. In Rwanda’s tropical climate, heavy rainfall can easily wash away this vital commodity if measures are not taken to retain it. Composting, planting, and control of water run-off are all skills that Rainforest Alliance farmers take on board and which make a huge difference.

Finally, as their name suggests, the Rainforest Alliance has a particular soft spot for trees! Indigenous species are planted on certified tea estates across the tea-producing world. In Rwanda there are now a significant number of seedling nurseries established purely to supply tea farmers with hardwood varieties native to their country so they can help to preserve natural woodlands.

So all these steps not only reduce harm they also help make more money for the tea growers. Oh, and we get even better quality tea for our luxury Yorkshire Gold blend.

Over 75% of the tea that goes into our Yorkshire Gold and Yorkshire Tea blends currently comes from Rainforest Alliance certified tea estates and gardens. We’re gradually increasing these percentages and by 2014, we aim to have 100% of the tea in our tea bags supplied by Rainforest Alliance certified growers.

It’s possible, it’s worth it and it’s our commitment to improving the lives of tea growers, workers and their families worldwide. It’s working too – as 10,000 Rwandan smallholders will testify.

Meet Simon, our Head of Properness

Meet Simon Hotchkin. He’s our new Sustainability Manager. To be honest, Simon’s job title should really be Head of Properness. His role, at the heart of our Commodities Team, is to ensure that we not only continue to be fair to our suppliers and kind to the environment, but also find ways we can improve further still, right across the business.

So who is Simon? Well, he’s a family man and Yorkshire through and through. Born in sunny Scarborough on the North Yorkshire coast, Simon spent most of his childhood around Beverley and now lives in Wetherby, just down the road from Harrogate. Simon met his wife at University and has three cracking kids.

After a brief stint buying heart valves and pacemakers for the NHS, Simon got a taste for purchasing of a different kind and trained to be a tea and coffee buyer at another UK tea and coffee importer. In his 14 years there, he spent time in operations, manufacturing and new product design before finally spending his last four years there dedicated to sustainability.

Simon is a bit of a catch for us as he’s managed to amass experience right across the business of tea and coffee importing and blending. That’s unusual, but Simon is rather unusual. For example, he’s a bit of an iron man as he swam for Yorkshire, last year started open water swimming (he’s entered the Great North Swim in Windermere this year) and is a keen road and mountain biker. He’s into rubber too and is the only person we know who was in a team that space-hoppered the entire Pennine Way… all 260-odd miles of it. On reflection, unusual might not be the right word to describe him. So what is Simon looking forward to in his new job?

“I’m really proud to be working for the premier Yorkshire brand. It’s all about quality here. My main challenge is to not only carry on with the ethical work Taylors already does, such as developing sustainable sourcing policies with our suppliers, but also to balance that with social and environmental responsibility right through the supply chain. Sustainability through everything we do.”

Simon also mentioned that his other challenge is to not put weight on, as there are some rather tempting and sticky accompaniments to his mug of Yorkshire Tea in the staff canteen at the factory. The cycling and swimming should offset that.

Whilst not exactly offsetting, Simon adds “Here in Harrogate, we already make big efforts to reduce the amount of packaging, our carbon footprint and energy consumption. I’m going to look at every aspect of what we do to see if I can reduce it still further.”

But it’s not all about reducing our impact here, tremendous care and effort goes into ensuring we trade fairly and respectfully with our growers abroad and pay them fair prices. That’s why it’s essential that our buyers, and Simon, travel the world meeting growers at their tea gardens to get a better understanding of their tea, forge meaningful, sustainable long-term partnerships and also secure the best quality tea for our blends. By also having strong partnerships with independent certification schemes such as the Rainforest Alliance, we can quickly help make a real difference to growers and their communities. In fact, we aim to help 100% of our suppliers become Rainforest Alliance certified by 2014.

We’ll let Simon have the final say: “I’m really excited about meeting our growers. I’m fairly well travelled in Africa, India and Sri Lanka, so I’m looking forward to discovering China and South America. In particular, I’m looking forward to launching a couple of exciting new projects which hopefully will be as effective as the one with our Rwanda tea producers which helped improve the lives of 10,000 small-scale farmers and their families.”

At that point we had to cut Simon off and swear him to secrecy, but we’ll be announcing details of our new projects soon. Good luck in your new job Simon – we’re really looking forward to you making a difference. If you’d like to give Simon a good luck message, feel free to leave one below.

How many cardboard boxes does it take to build a pirate ship?

Captain Rummage and his trusty cardboard ship

Ever since we mentioned our recycling pirate on the backs of our packs, we’ve been getting lots more messages from people wanting to know more about ‘Captain Rummage’.

To be fair, a lot of those messages are along the lines of ‘I beg your pardon?’ – but that’s not all that surprising. Not every tea company has one. We won’t go into too much detail about his origins (you can learn more here) but in short, Captain Rummage runs our community recycling initiative, The Cone Exchange.

Chris (as he’s known to his mum) started The Cone Exchange as a sideline, a way to find creative uses for all the leftover odds and ends from our factory that would otherwise go to landfill. Over the years, it’s grown to be much, much more – a key part in a network of community and national charities, craft centres and scrap stores.

As well as manning the Cone Exchange with his team of volunteers, Chris also dons his pirate gear to go out to schools and get children excited about ‘turning trash into treasure’. Like in the picture above, where together they built a pirate ship out of surplus cardboard boxes.

So he’s always up to something.

The latest drive is to help with the Yorkshire Rainforest Project, our mission to save a Yorkshire-sized piece of rainforest.

Given that The Cone Exchange is a community initiative, the Captain is aiming to contribute enough funds to the project to save an area of endangered rainforest the size of our local community (the postcodes HG1 and HG2, in fact).

By swapping with a network of local scrap stores, Chris has also developed a Craft Shop, where budding crafts folk can pick up all sorts of items from buttons to sparkly gems and card, with all the proceeds going towards the Cone Exchange’s mini-rainforest project.

For more information, visit our Cone Exchange website.

(The answer’s 158 by the way.)

Captain Rummage teaching kids how to turn trash into treasure

Answers from the Rainforest

Our friend Erika, from RFUK

While our tea cosy auction was in full swing, we thought it would be the perfect time to introduce our friend Erika from the Rainforest Foundation UK. RFUK are our charity partners in the Yorkshire Rainforest Project, and Erika has just returned from a trip to the project area in Peru where we’re working to help indigenous communities protect the forests they live in.

We gave our Facebook followers the chance to ask Erika any questions they had about the rainforest – here are her answers:

Tracey Barnard asked: ‘What are the communities like there and how do they go about their everyday lives? How did you get accepted into their village & their way of life?’

The Ashaninka peoples live in Central Forest in the Amazonian part of the eastern Andean foothills in Peru. The rivers and the dense forests and abundant animals have given life to the Ashaninka peoples for thousands of years. Most Ashaninka still live by fishing, hunting, and cultivating small plots of land. Yucca, plantain, peanuts, sweet potatoes, and sugarcane are grown, as well as medicinal herbs.
We're helping the Ashaninka to protect the forest they live in

Blu Bla Goo asked: ‘What is the tea like in Peru?’

The indigenous peoples do not drink tea or coffee, but they love their masato. Masato is a traditional drink made from jucca, which is a root vegetable that the Ashaninka depend on and use for everything. It is like a mild beer, which they drink at all occasions, at parties, when working in the agricultural plots, or going hunting. For me it is a rather strange and yeasty drink, but to be accepted into the Ashaninka community and family, you just need to drink it, and after awhile you get used to it.

Theo Nightingale asked: ‘I would like to know about the insects – are they huge and plentiful? Do they buzz around and bite you?’

In the rainforest there are a lot of insects, of all sorts of sizes and colours, and during the night the jungle comes alive from all their sounds. Many of them, and also plants, have a defence mechanism, they sting to protect themselves, and some even shoot spines at you, which gives you an allergic reaction. But it is amazing how the jungle is so full of life and energy.

Catherine ‘Shirley’ Wren asked: ‘What do you think about the new rainforest legislation in Brazil?’

The new ‘Forest Code’ in Brazil has been approved by the Congress, and now needs to be approved by the Senate and President Dilma. If passed, the area and forest that ranchers and companies need to preserve and not cut down would be reduced drastically. It would allow for extensive new clearing of forests, and it would make way for agriculture and industrial tree plantations. This highlights a strange incentive to increase deforestation when Brazil (and the world) has committed to protecting the rainforests in order to combat climate change.

Making 'masato' the local brew - fancy a cup?

A Visit from the Rainforest

Ruth Buendid with our Sam

This week we were really honoured to welcome a special visitor, who had travelled all the way from deep within the Amazon basin to meet us here in the heart of Yorkshire. We’ll let our Ethical Projects Officer, Sam, explain:

“Over the last 18 months we’ve been raising funds for the 10,000 strong Ashaninka community living in Peru’s endangered rainforest. Ruth Buendia, one of the Ashaninka’s most respected and dedicated leaders, came to speak to us about our support in the fight to protect her community’s rainforest home. Ruth has spent much of her life speaking out for her community who, at only 10,000 strong, are a small voice struggling against large, ever-increasing threats from loggers, mineral exploitation, and now a dam that could flood much of their ancestral land.

We’ve committed to helping Ruth’s Ashaninka community as part of the Yorkshire Rainforest Project – our pledge to save an area of rainforest the size of Yorkshire. For this first stage of our huge campaign we’re working with the Rainforest Foundation UK to ensure that the community have the legal framework, skills and resources to continue to live within the rainforest – and protect it from outside interests.

We’ve already been bowled over by the support from our customers for the project – thousands of you have been collecting the little rainforest tokens on our packs of Yorkshire Tea, and that help is already having a real impact on the Ashaninka.

Ruth is also president of the Central Ashaninka of the River Ene (known as CARE) who are helping to put our project into action on the ground. It was wonderful for us to be able to speak to Ruth about the progress of the project and she told us that our Yorkshire Rainforest Project is ‘helping the Ashaninka people immensely’. She added: ‘It’s the first time that CARE have received such large funding directly and the communities located in the Rio Ene Valley will benefit greatly.’

If you’d like to support our Yorkshire Rainforest Project, you can – send us the tokens from our Yorkshire Tea boxes and for every 4 tokens we receive we’ll donate an extra 50p to our appeal.”

Back to school for our Sam

Ben Rhydding Pics (3)Ben Rhydding PicsBen Rhydding Pics (1)

These rainforest pictures were sent to Sam in our PR team by pupils from Ben Rhydding Primary School in Ilkley. She’d been invited to talk at their assembly about the Yorkshire Rainforest Project, our pledge to save an area of rainforest the size of Yorkshire. Not forgetting her trip to the part of Peru where we’re currently working with local communities to help them protect their forest. Here’s what she told us about visiting the school:

“Ben Rhydding Primary School very kindly invited me to come along and talk about my time in Peru with the Ashaninka community who call the rainforest home, and while I was there they showed me these fab pictures they’d made of rainforest scenes. Their Year 4 classes have been learning all about the rainforest, from the plants and animals that live there to the people that depend on the forest for their food, shelter and livelihoods. They used what they learned to put together a brilliant assembly, dressing up as rainforest animals to re-enact the story of the ‘Great Kapok Tree’, and to tell their school about the wonders of the Amazon.

It was great to see children so interested in the rainforest and understanding the impact that it has on all of us. Some of the pupils gave us their thoughts on why the rainforest is so important. As well as giving us oxygen to breathe and taking away CO2, they said that the rainforest gives us life saving materials we can’t get anywhere else and provides a home to lots of beautiful animals and plants, as well as many people who live in harmony with the rainforest.

While I was staying with the Ashaninka communities in the Amazon, I had the chance to visit a couple of schools.  Just as in England, the children learn about why it is important to look after the environment. They’re taught that it’s their forest, and their home – and if they don’t look after it, who will?

Ashaninka Schoolchildren

Their teacher told me that that many of the children worry about their future and how they will be able to sustain themselves with so many threats to their forests, from logging, oil mining and coca production.

I hope we can get more schools finding out about the Yorkshire Rainforest Project. If teachers or pupils want to get in touch, they are welcome to e-mail us at – and we also have some rainforest facts and activity pages that we can send across, as well as ideas on how to protect the rainforest.”

The Fruits of our Labours

Trees For Life Bihar Project

Back in 2007, we invited Yorkshire Tea fans to save special tree tokens from our packs. And in return, we pledged to plant a tree in India for every token they sent in.

It was one of the final projects that made up our 20-year long Trees For Life campaign, which saw us plant 3 million trees around the world. Three years on, and we’re able to look back at how that project changed lives and built communities.

Thanks to the support of our customers, we were able to fully fund Oxfam’s work to plant trees in north east India – one of the most disaster prone regions in the world. Tree felling and erratic rainfall caused by climate change mean the region experiences cycles of devastating floods and droughts that effect hundreds of thousands of people each year.

With our support, Oxfam have worked with 10,911 families, in 78 communities, to plant 80,069 saplings. Typically, these hard-pressed families are often headed by women, and planting trees – such as mango, papaya, guava, banana and lemon – has helped address problems of malnutrition and given families a valuable source of income. The tree planting is also helping protect land and belongings during floods, and in some villages the extra vegetation has actually reduced summer temperatures by 5 degrees.

A good example of what this means on an individual level comes in the form of this quote from Shanti, a 52 year old mother from the village of Jaisidih. Shanti was given eight fruit tree saplings which she planted at her homes, and she told us: “After seven months we got the first harvest of papaya and after nine months banana. My family was very happy and my children got the first taste of fruits in their life. Now I have more trees and sell fruit in the market. I’m invited to other villages to give training and I have a new name – ‘Pedwali Didi’ which means tree plantation sister.”

Of course, the focus of our business now is very much on the Yorkshire Rainforest Project, our pledge to save an area of rainforest the size of Yorkshire. But it’s heart-warming to be able to look back at what we’ve already achieved together – and to see how all your support is still making a difference, even today.

Runs for the Rainforest

Our Sam with Jo Sayers in Harrogate's Valley Gardens

Earlier this year we made a deal with Yorkshire County Cricket Club. We promised that, for every run they scored during the season, we’d save a tree – helping to support our Yorkshire Rainforest Project. The project is our bid to fight climate change by saving an area of rainforest the size of Yorkshire, starting with a project in Peru’s Amazon Rainforest.

By the end of the 2010 season the Yorkshire team had scored an impressive 14,343 runs, nearly 5,000 runs up on 2009. Plus, with an average age of just 23, things are looking very good for the years to come. Yorkshire’s Director of Cricket, Martyn Moxon, said: “The players have worked incredibly hard to get results this year, and they have definitely been spurred on by the ‘Runs for the Rainforest’s campaign. We’re all very proud of the outcome.”

So, with what amounts to their most successful season for almost ten years, YCCC have helped to save 17 acres of rainforest, equivalent in size to Harrogate’s Valley Gardens and Pinewoods forest. To mark the occasion Yorkshire cricketer Joe Sayers joined our Sam in the grounds of Valley Gardens to toast the club’s achievements – with a cup of Yorkshire Tea, of course.

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