A Greener Stranraer Oyster Festival on the menu

Oyster Bar at 2022 Stranraer Oyster Festival - customer receiving plate of oysters from festival staff
Alan Robertson

Stranraer Oyster Festival has revealed its full programme for 2023 alongside a pledge to ‘go greener’ and help safeguard the wild, native oyster bed that the festival celebrates.

Michael Caines, Tony Singh, Julie Lin and Felicity Cloaks are among the chefs demonstrating their culinary flair. They’ll join local chefs, artisan traders, musicians and skilled oyster shuckers at the three-day festival in south west Scotland. The Opening Ceremony on Friday 15th September at 6pm will see the crew of The Vital Spark land one of the first native oyster catches of the season. The oysters are piped ashore by Loch Ryan Pipe Band and the landing will be followed by an evening of live music, celebrity chef cookery demos and a spectacular fireworks and aerobatics display.

Taking place from Friday 15th to Sunday 17th September, Stranraer Oyster Festival has quickly become established as one of the biggest food festivals in Scotland, and a must-visit for oyster enthusiasts, with visitors attracted from all over the UK.

As part of their commitment to the environment, festival organisers have pledged to return the shell of every oyster consumed at the festival back to Loch Ryan, to help grow the native oyster bed, located just a short distance from the festival site. 

Allana Hardie of Stranraer Development Trust, the community organisation that runs the festival, explained:

“The beauty and ecological importance of Loch Ryan and its wild, native oyster bed is at the very heart of Stranraer Oyster Festival, and we have always been mindful of our responsibility to manage the festival sustainably. This year we want to go even further. We’ve reviewed every area of festival and site management to see where we can reduce our environmental footprint.

“Collecting back the oyster shells to return them to Loch Ryan has so many benefits. It reduces waste from the festival, it will create valuable shell habitat for young oysters which will help the oyster bed grow, and it will naturally sequester the carbon that’s embodied in the oyster shells.”

With almost all of the UK’s native oyster beds overfished to near-extinction in previous centuries, Scotland’s last wild, native oyster fishery is not just nationally important; it’s important at a species level. The oyster shell circular collection scheme is just one of the green initiatives undertaken this year, which has been partly inspired by Dumfries and Galloway Council’s Greener Events Toolkit. Other eco-friendly festival measures include marine litter picks, improved waste management and using a ticketing provider that offsets carbon emissions through tree planting.

The festival is supported through Dumfries and Galloway Council’s Major Events Strategic Fund and EventScotland’s National Events Funding Programme. The work of Stranraer Development Trust is also supported by Kilgallioch Community Fund and South of Scotland Enterprise.

Councillor Ian Blake, Chair of the Council's Communities Committee said:

“The Oyster Festival is the perfect recipe for a great day out or weekend break in Dumfries and Galloway. The promotion of local produce and the wonderful unspoilt environment is a real tonic for visitors. It’s fantastic that the Festival is back and stronger than ever since the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Paul Bush OBE, VisitScotland’s Director of Events, said:

“The Stranraer Oyster Festival is a fantastic celebration of Scotland’s natural larder and Dumfries and Galloway is the perfect stage for such a food and drink event. I’m delighted to see that the festival has again attracted such a high quality line up of guests with Michael, Tony, Julie and Felicity joining an already packed programme in the region.”

Why Stranraer Oyster Festival Matters 

For a town that was defined for decades by being the main ferry port to Northern Ireland, it was feared - once the ferries left town - that Stranraer might lose everything. Stranraer Oyster Festival was born out of community passion to write a new story for Stranraer.

Established to promote Stranraer as a tourism destination and to raise awareness of the unique, experience of Scotland’s wild, native oysters, the festival has had a huge impact on Stranraer’s economy, and its identity.

Launched in 2017 by Stranraer Development Trust, the festival has grown in ambition, in visitor numbers and in economic impact every year it’s been held. After four festivals, independent economic analysis demonstrated that Stranraer Oyster Festival has generated almost £5 million for the local economy so far, supporting hundreds of jobs, showcasing multiple local businesses and organisations, providing volunteering and training opportunities for members of the community, and stimulating tourism development in the area.

Romano Petrucci, Chair of Stranraer Development Trust, commented:

“In a very short period of time Stranraer Oyster Festival has become a hugely important part of Stranraer’s identity, and a real focal point for celebrating the very best that Stranraer and the wider Galloway area has to offer.

“We are looking forward to delivering an action packed festival that entertains, inspires and satisfies our visitors. Loch Ryan’s unique native oysters are of course at the heart of our festival, but this three-day event is about the people and the place too. There is simply no finer way to enjoy our oysters, and our town’s hospitality, than relaxing next to Stranraer Harbour looking out at beautiful Loch Ryan as the sun sets across the water with Ailsa Craig on the horizon.”

Romano added: “No one should ever doubt our community’s ability to create, produce and deliver the very best, and the very best is what we will always seek to deliver.”

About Loch Ryan Native Oysters

For hundreds of years the wild, native Loch Ryan oysters that thrive at the bottom of the sea loch were a hidden gem – seemingly better known in the fine dining restaurants of London, than they were by local folk. The festival changed all that, and Stranraer Oyster Festival is now a flagship event in the community’s determination to regenerate the town. 

Native oysters are considered ecosystem engineers because they help maintain marine ecosystems by filtering water and providing habitat for coastal wildlife.

The oyster bed has been protected by Royal Charter since 1701. Sustainable management of the bed by Loch Ryan Oyster Fishery Company began in 1996 and oyster numbers are believed to have grown from 1 million to 60 million today. Loch Ryan oysters are now being used in native oyster bed restoration projects across the UK and in Germany.

You can find the full festival programme here.