Rob and Gabrielle Clam.

What is your business called?

Birken Tree.

Where is it based?

We work in Birchwoods in Highland Perthshire near Aberfeldy and another Birchwood north of Perth.

What does it produce, what services does it offer?

Birken Tree is the only home-grown producer of commercial Birchwater in the UK.

Over the last few years, Birchwater has seen a significant rise in popularity in the UK and across the Northern Hemisphere.

Once a widespread tradition in the Scottish Highlands, the practice of tapping Birch trees and using the sap as a pure and revitalising drink had long been forgotten but its recent revival has led to Birchwater firmly establishing itself in the UK market as a delicious, nutrient-rich, detoxifying drink that cleanses the liver, soothes arthritic pain, rejuvenates skin and balances cholesterol.

It can only be extracted or ‘tapped’ from Birch trees during one very short three-week period in March.

We also use the leaves from the trees to make a purifying tea for anti-inflammatory purposes and urinary tract healing.

To whom does it sell?

Birken Tree Birchwater is currently available to buy on our website and we have partnered with Greencity Wholefoods in Glasgow. It is also available in outlets across the Perthshire area.

What is its turnover?

The company is in its first year of trading and is set to turn over £130,000, with projections beyond that to £500,000 and £1 million in the following years.

How many employees?

We run Birken Tree as a partnership on our own, taking on extra help during the tapping period in March, and plan to expand and provide more employment by the end of our first year.

When was it formed?


Why did you take the plunge?

When we became aware last year of the scale of the international Birchwater market, which is valued at around $1 billion, we were interested to discover that all production of Birchwater came from Latvia, Finland, Ukraine and Belorussia. None came from Scotland despite the presence of over 100,000 hectares of Birch woodland.

The combination of our backgrounds in forestry and healing, plus our desire to share the health benefits of Birchwater more widely in the UK, resulted in us setting up the business.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

Gabrielle was a chiropractor and is still a practising Shamanic healer. She has excellent knowledge of human physiology and health and is very interested in plant healing and herbology. I have been a forest manager all my working career, in both the private sector and with the Forestry Commission and have been involved in a wide range of native woodland and commercial forestry projects throughout Scotland.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

We self-financed the business in the initial stages and we then secured Rural LEADER funding through Perth and Kinross Council, Innovation grants from Scottish Enterprise and an Innovation Voucher for collaboration with Queen Margaret University.

What was your worst moment?

When we lost around 40% of their Birch sap stock due to fermentation last year before we discovered that the best method to store the sap is to freeze it. Not a good day!

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

When things are challenging just being back in the ancient Birchwoods makes everything seem okay again. We feel a deep connection with these ancient woods and enjoy reviving such old Scottish traditions. We love learning more and more about all the different uses of Birch Trees and finding new ways to offer their properties.

What do you least enjoy?

Probably, doing our accounts!

What are your ambitions for the firm?

We already have some exciting new brand plans for the future. In April we raised £1,000 crowdfunding in 20 days to help us to produce a sparkling version of our Birch sap, along with two flavour variants: a Wild Cranberry and Blaeberry base and a Meadowsweet base.

These important funds will also help us to reach the wider UK market, contribute significantly to the rural economy and get to the point where our Birchwater can strongly compete with the international imported versions.

What are your five top priorities?

Sustainability is our top priority and lies at the very heart of our business. We only use wild Birch trees and we aim to carefully protect our woodland to ensure that future generations of these trees are nurtured.

Staying true to our ethos of retaining as much of the goodness as possible in our products. So many products are heavily processed nowadays in the food and drink industry.

Enabling the economic growth of our business and demonstrating that native Birchwoods can be a source of revenue and can be productive. Our business is very scaleable.

Teaching people about this ancestral Scottish tradition and all the different bounties these native woodlands can offer. We would like to host forest schools in the longer term.

Retaining our passion for nature and life in everything we do, staying inspired by our vision and taking pleasure in learning every day.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

They could provide a stronger, more consistent and dynamic support network for encouraging and helping rural businesses. Enterprises like ours have the potential to become international players, can contribute significantly to the rural economy and can further enrich the food and drink culture of Scotland.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

Follow your gut instinct in business. Listen to those who you have a good feeling about, and who are successful and positive about the success of others. And don’t be afraid to fall hard to rise higher.

How do you relax?

By spending time in the Birchwoods!