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First UK strawberries on the way

The first English strawberries of the year will appear on supermarket shelves this weekend after the sunniest winter in nearly 90 years.

Waitrose will take delivery of the first berries to have ripened in glasshouses in West Sussex on the south coast by grower Harry Hall.

The Met Office said provisional statistics show that the UK has had its sunniest winter in records dating back to 1929.

Laurence Olins, chairman of British Summer Fruits, said the first strawberries had appeared slightly earlier than last year because of the high levels of sunshine.

"The light levels have been very high, which has helped bring the season forward a few days," he said.

Mr Olins said the earliest strawberries were a specialist crop grown in glasshouses by fewer than 10 suppliers.

The main outdoor crop starts at the end of April or early May and usually continues until the weather cools in October.

He understood just a few pounds would be harvested by this weekend, but that would turn into "a handful of tonnes" by next week.

In the British winter, imported strawberries come from Spain, Morocco, Egypt and Israel.

Waitrose's strawberry buyer Nicki Baggott said: "The arrival of English strawberries heralds the start of an early summer in kitchens across the country, as those pining for sunshine start preparing summery dishes such as Eton mess and strawberries and cream."

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