Ludlow rum company's mission to save the world's sea turtles

The scorching sun shimmering on the ocean’s surface and waves gently crashing on a welcoming shore.

Owner Lee Smith
Owner Lee Smith

It sounds like heaven and for Lee and Trudy Smith, their trip to Jamaica was also the inspiration behind a business which, in the space of two years, has collected a raft of awards. But the Ludlow pair’s business – Lost Years Rum – has been about far more than creating a successful spirits brand.

This is about a mission to help the planet and, in particular, sea turtles. As the business motto says, this is ‘great rum doing good’.

Lost Years Rum celebrated its second birthday recently. It’s a business inspired by the mysterious journeys which newly-hatched sea turtles make during their early years – the period known as ‘the lost years’ and there’s a commitment to raising funds for sea turtle conservation.

Through its partnership with US charity SEE Turtles, every bottle sold generates a donation to support community-based conservation in the tropics – with more than 55,000 baby sea turtles saved since Lost Years launched in November 2020, at the height of lockdown.

A green sea turtle swimming among colourful coral reef in beautiful clear water

“We came up with the idea on a big family holiday in Jamaica,” Lee recalls. “It was September 2019 and we hatched the idea of a rum brand that helps to save sea turtles.

“When I go to that part of the world, of course, I like to try the rum and visit distilleries

“I was out one day visiting one called the Hampton Estate. My wife and our kids – daughter Elliot and son Billy – were back at the resort, on the beach, listening to stories about sea turtles. I’d probably drunk one too many rums because that night, over dinner, we came up with this idea for a brand that is devoted to saving the endangered sea turtles!”

Actions speak louder than words and the family made it their mission. Lost Years Rum, a family-owned rum brand with a big purpose, was launched.

With a core range comprising four multi award-winning blends – Navy Strength, Silver Moon, Arribada and Four Island – Lost Years was a celebration of pure, unadulterated Caribbean and Latin American rum. In its first two years of trading, Lost Years Rum has won 16 industry awards for its quality.

But it’s the mission to protect and rehabilitate endangered sea turtles, through its pledged donation scheme which really fascinates and resonates at a time when climate change is at the forefront of people’s minds. As you’d expect Lost Years is 100% plastic free and offsets its carbon emissions by planting and protecting seagrass, an eco wonder-plant, in Latin America.

But why sea turtles in particular?

“Billy, ever since he was a toddler, has always been into sea turtles,” adds Lee. “They have been his favourite creature for as long as we can remember. As a young toddler he might have watched Finding Nemo one too many times!

“So with my love of rum and Billy’s love of sea turtles, we came up with this idea, bringing great Caribbean rum back to the UK and every drop we sell will raise money for the charity SEE Turtles.“They basically fund community-based conservation, mainly across the Caribbean and Latin America, although they do go further afield than that. “Conservationists patrol beaches, find where the sea turtles lay their eggs and make sure nests are protected.

“It’s all about making sure those little baby sea turtles actually make it into the water and begin their life to adulthood.”

And that’s absolutely vital with the sea turtle greatly under threat. Six out of seven species of sea turtles are endangered or threatened and some could be gone within a generation,” Lee warns.

Lost Years Rum

“These creatures have been on our planet for 110 million years and yet they could disappear on our watch. Like so much wildlife out there, they really need our help. They face threats from global warming as the planet increases in temperature.

“Sea level rises contribute to the loss of beach and sea turtle nesting habitat. Hotter sand from increasing temperatures also results in decreased hatching rates or complete nest failure.

“And increased sand temperatures affects hatchlings – the gender of the sea turtles is dictated by the temperature of the sand eggs are in. The higher the temperature, the more female hatchlings are produced and the fewer males are born. That’s beginning to dictate numbers.”

Lee adds: “Plastic pollution is also a problem. Most sea turtles eat jelly fish and they confuse plastic bags floating in the water with those and end up dying, while a lot get caught up in fishing gear dumped in the ocean.

“The charity is estimating that just one in a thousand of these baby sea turtles are making it to adulthood. When we learnt all this, we said we need to do something. We wanted to try and make a difference. They are very graceful creatures and are symbolic of our Blue Planet and the challenges and perils we face.”

The brand, Lee explains, is called The Lost Years in reference to the time after turtles hatch and head to sea. They remain in the sea for many years before returning to near-shore waters as large juveniles.

“The Lost Years is when the sea turtles scurry down the beach and disappear into the water,” Lee says. “In that period, they disappear for about a decade before returning to the beach they were hatched on. Scientists have previously had no idea where they go but are starting to piece more together through tracking. They return to the very beach they were hatched on and lay their own eggs. It’s incredible.”

You can clearly hear, from the passion and enthusiasm he exudes, Lee’s business really is all about making a difference to these creatures, above all else.

And he’s pretty clear on the mission moving forward – a dream of building the brand and continuing to make a difference.

“We have won 16 awards with the rum for its quality since it started. We received a Master Medal for one of our rums, of which only 12 were given out globally. Our little old brand is there next to some of the giants of rum world, getting recognised.

“We won an award in Spirits Business Magazine recently and, here we are, just this tiny little family-run business out of Ludlow.

“Customers have got behind us and we have got nice a little following now.

“We are listed in farm shops and an increasing number of bars and restaurants and hotels.

“And we have started to get a lot of interest from overseas especially where there are sea turtles that nest, in countries such as Dubai and the UAE.

“We have big ambitions. We are at the start of our journey as a business but we want to help save one million sea turtles.”

With the company’s drive and determination and young Billy’s love of sea turtles, you wouldn’t back against it. And if you get to try a glass of Lost Years Rum, it might be worth toasting the family’s efforts to make a difference.

n For more details on the company, visit lostyearsrum.com

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