At 11pm tonight, 31st January 2020, the UK leaves the EU. Much has been discussed since that fateful night of June 23rd 2016, when the UK voted 52% leave, kicking off the long road to Britain’s Exit, or Brexit as it become known.
Regardless of your position, pro Brexit, remainer or ambivalence, the overwhelming feeling of this great country appears to be frustration. Frustration at how long it has taken, frustration at the lack of accountability and frustration at the negotiations. This last point is where Conker Cup feels the most let down. Having skim read at least 3 documents relating to Brexit over the last four years, we were alarmed to find no mention of conkers at all.
Chestnut Chat, our media affiliate, has been investigating the impact of Brexit on conkers.
While horse chestnut trees can now be found across Europe, they were originally native only to Albania, Bulgaria, Greece and the Republic of North Macedonia. Both Bulgaria and Greece are EU member states, with Albania and Macedonia being recognised as official candidate states. It likely that the pilgrimage, made by many conker fans, to these countries will now be complicated with travel visa’s and the like. Although unlikely, the conker cradle of life countries, could try and monetise the UK’s love of nut swinging by adding what is essentially conker tax to UK residents known to be travelling for nut sport reasons.
There is also the issue of horse chestnut trees themselves. The European Forestry commission, established as part of the Paris Agreement, are responsible for protecting amongst other things, trees. The horse chestnut tree is currently listed as ‘near threatened’. There is concern between the movers and shakers within the conker world that the UK may not focus as heavily on the protection of the conker mother. In another interview Colin Bucket, a UK conker wrangler said “I’m concerned”.
We have looked at travel and trees, but the most important element is obviously the game. The Conker Federation (CF), the UK's unofficial conker governing body, had this to say about Brexit and its impact on the game:
The game of conkers is as old as time, approximately 150 years. The UK is undoubtedly the world leader in nut sports, however there are pockets of nut enthusiast is the US, particularly New York and of course Ohio (the buckeye state). Much of the CF activities over the last few years have been around exporting the game to European counties. Clearly Brexit is not going to help that process. That said we remain hopeful that if we extend our nuts across the channel, the good people of Europe will receive them, and in turn allow us to play with their nuts.
Time will tell what happens to conkers in both the UK and Europe. We shall cross our nuts that the sport continues to grow, and we invite one and all to enter Conker Cup 2020.