Warwick confirms closure of Kirton centre

The University of Warwick's horticultural research centre at Kirton, Lincolnshire, is to close after the university revealed it has lost more than £1m in the past four years.

The 49ha site is operated as part of the University of Warwick's Horticulture Research International (HRI), which is based in Wellesbourne, Warwickshire.

Kirton's location in the heart of Lincolnshire means field trials carried out on the site are in the same soil types as those used for vegetable production in the area.

A large number of research projects are based at the Kirton site - which boasts 46ha of grade-one silt land, 4ha of accredited organic land, glasshouses for young plant production and protected crops, Spanish, polythene and mesh tunnels for specialist crop production and temperature storage facilities.

However, despite its ideal location, the university revealed in a statement that Kirton is currently losing £280,000 a year.

A university representative said: "The site's 10 staff have worked hard to provide high-quality research support and knowledge-transfer programmes, in particular for plant-related work in the growing and retail sectors.

"However, the commercial and public research funding support for the site has been consistently and significantly below its operating costs. It is expected that operations on the site will continue until early 2009."

The university is now exploring options for the future use of the site in the hope of continuing its work. A representative said: "There is a range of options still being looked at. We are in discussions with a number of organisations (research providers, interested industrial organisations and funding bodies) that could take over the site. Where possible, research will be transferred to our site at Wellesbourne."

Warwick HRI, like many other horticultural research centres in the country such as East Malling Research in Kent, is beginning to feel the pinch of Defra's decline in funding to the research industry.

Over the next decade, Defra will be winding down its funding to Warwick HRI (Grower, 24 July).

Research currently taking place at the site includes Dr Roy Kennedy's development of predictive models for crops, pest and diseases and his work on onion white rot composting, along with Dr Rosemary Collier's work on companion planting, which is being carried out as part of a LINK project.

The university has also confirmed that the majority of the staff at the site are facing redundancy.

The representative said: "At the moment we are going to retain one member of staff and the others are going to be notified that their positions are at risk."

Jobs at Warwick HRI's Wellesbourne site remain secure, with the University of Warwick's vice-chancellor Professor Nigel Thrift noting in the statement sent to Grower "how quickly and effectively the research teams at Wellesbourne have formed highly effective partnerships with a range of university departments".

He added: "The university will continue to build and develop on the success of that work."

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