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'Picking for Britain':

Experiences of agricultural employers and British harvest workers during the COVID-19 Crisis and beyond

The Covid-19 crisis led to suggestions that farmers should recruit British workers in place of migrants to ‘get the harvest in’. In our research we are investigating this policy solution to labour shortages.

The research is supported by the University of Gloucestershire and Loughborough University.

The project is also guided by a small steering group of experts in the field, including: Professor Bridget Anderson (University of Bristol, Bristol, UK); Professor Johan Fredrik Rye (NTNU, Trondheim, Norway) and Dr Matt Reed (CCRI, University of Gloucestershire, UK).

The project team

Dr Sam Scott, senior lecturer at the University of Gloucestershire, is a human geographer who specialises in population geography and international migration.

Professor Karen O’Reilly, Emeritus Professor at Loughborough University, is a migration specialist and social theorist

Both have extensive experience of research and publications and are contributors to the recent volume: International Labour Migration to Europe’s Rural Regions (Routledge, 2020).

Key research questions

  • What is the size and nature of the seasonal labour demand uplift in British agriculture?
  • What were the extent and nature of labour shortages over the 2020-21 seasons?
  • To what extent did domestic workers address these Covid-19 induced shortages?
  • What were the experiences of the domestic workers who replaced (or hoped to replace) migrant harvest workers?
  • What factors might motivate domestic workers to take on work previously done by migrants over the medium to longer term?
  • Did the employers, who replaced migrants with domestic workers, experience any specific challenges?
  • What factors might motivate employers to employ domestic workers to replace migrants over the medium to long term?

Research design

To address the research questions, we will be interviewing:

  1. British harvest workers who contributed, or attempted to contribute, to the 2020 and 2021 harvest seasons in the UK. This includes temporary or seasonal work such as: planting; pruning; picking; packing or processing.
  2. Agricultural employers in the fruit and vegetable sectors who employed or attempted to employ British workers during the 2020 and 2021 harvest seasons.

Interviews will be semi-structured, last for around 45 minutes to an hour, and will be recorded and anonymised.

Get in touch

If you would like to know more or feel you can help, please contact sscott@glos.ac.uk or k.oreilly@lboro.ac.uk.