Pick for Britain website 'unavailable' amid drive for workers to collect fruit and veg

19 May 2020, 17:26 | Updated: 19 May 2020, 17:33

Only a third of seasonal fruit and vegetable pickers have arrived in the UK this year
Only a third of seasonal fruit and vegetable pickers have arrived in the UK this year. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

The website for the Pick for Britain scheme crashed today after the Environment Secretary announced a major drive for farm workers to harvest fruit and veg.

George Eustice urged furloughed Brits to "lend a hand" as just a third of the usual number of fruit and vegetable pickers have come to the UK this year.

Earlier today Prince Charles backed the scheme as well, but the website for furloughed workers to sign up to pick fruit and vegetables on farms was not working this afternoon, as the scheme was announced at the daily UK press briefing on coronavirus.

The website pickforbritain.org.uk was not working this afternoon instead reading a message saying "the service is unavailable."

Environment Secretary George Eustice acknowledged that only about a third of workers from countries including Romania and Bulgaria who would normally come to the UK were here already and only "small numbers" would continue to travel.

"One thing is clear and that is that this year we will need to rely on British workers to lend a hand to help bring that harvest home," he said at the daily Downing Street press conference.

Mr Eustice said that furloughed workers "may be getting to the point that they want to lend a hand and play their part, they may be wanting to get out and they may be wanting to supplement their income".

The Prince of Wales backed the scheme asking for "pickers who are stickers" in the national effort to help farmers with the "unglamorous" job of harvesting fruit and vegetables.

Charles backed the Government's initiative to bring UK workers and farmers together to ensure crops are not left to rot in the ground during the coronavirus outbreak.

He likened the "vital" project to the Women's Land Army, which helped boost Britain's food production during the Second World War.

The prince, who runs an organic farm at his home in Gloucestershire, says in the video: "Food does not happen by magic, it all begins with our remarkable farmers and growers.

"If the last few weeks have proved anything, it is that food is precious and valued, and it cannot be taken for granted.

"This is why that great movement of the Second World War - the Land Army - is being rediscovered in the newly created 'Pick For Britain' campaign.

"In the coming months, many thousands of people will be needed to bring in the crops. It will be hard graft but is hugely important if we are to avoid the growing crops going to waste."

In the video, which was recorded in the vegetable garden of Charles's Scottish home and will be posted on the Clarence House social media channels later, the heir to the throne says: "Harvesting runs until the early autumn and people are needed who are genuinely going to commit.

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"The phrase I have often heard is 'pickers who are stickers'.

"I do not doubt that the work will be unglamorous and, at times, challenging. But it is of the utmost importance and, at the height of this global pandemic, you will be making a vital contribution to the national effort.

"So, I can only urge you to Pick For Britain."

The Government's initiative follows concerns raised by producers that there will be a shortage in seasonal workers coming to the UK from eastern Europe due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions.

Peak periods for harvesting produce run from June to the autumn and it is hoped that people from students to laid-off hospitality workers will take the opportunity.

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