FORGET strawberries, the chance to pick your own sunflowers is enticing crowds to a farm in Canewdon.

This sea of glorious sunflower heads fills five acres of farmland in Lark Hill Road.

The flowers were planted by the owners of Woodford Meats farm shop, as a sideline to their meat and poultry business.

Brothers Mark and Paul Woodford decided to try something different by planting the sunflowers in the field, along with a crop of sweetcorn.

Mark said: "We thought it was a nice idea for conservation as much as for giving food for small birds.

"But then we decided it would be nice to offer them as pick your own.

"It has proved popular with people buying them from the shop or the field to put in a vase or to dry out and use the seed for birds."

Instantly recognisable for their tall stems and bright yellow flower heads, sunflowers grow best in fertile, moist, well-drained soil and can often reach three metres in height.

The "whole seed" part of the flower can be sold as snack food while sunflowers as a whole can be processed into a peanut butter alternative, known as sunbutter.

Sunbutter is especially popular in China, Russia, the United States, the Middle East and Europe.

Sunflowers can also be sold as food for birds and can be used directly in cooking and salads.

During the 18th century, the use of sunflower oil became very popular in Europe, particularly with members of the Russian Orthodox Church because it was one of the few oils that was not prohibited during Lent.

Flower lovers can pick up their own stash of sunflowers by visiting the shop at Bolt Hall Farm, in Lark Hill Road, from 9am to 6pm on Fridays and Saturdays.