Cider apple collection saved

Published : 27 Jan 2016 Last update : 15 Apr 2016

We’re to become the new guardians of an internationally important collection of cider apples, helping to secure its future and save rare varieties being lost forever.

Slack-ma-Girdle, Netherton Late Blower and Billy Down Pippin are just three of the apple varieties in the ‘National cider apple’ collection established over more than 13 years by collector and donor Henry May.

" I am delighted that the National Trust has become the custodian of this collection and, really, I could not have asked for a better result."
- Henry May, who collected the cider apple varieties over 13 years

Bringing the collection back to life

A process of propagation began last year at our Plant Conservation Centre so that the trees could be moved from Tidnor orchard in Herefordshire.

David Bullock, head of nature conservation, said: ‘To be given this collection is a fantastic privilege. We’re committed to looking after and protecting traditional fruit orchards, which are not only beautiful, but are incredibly important for many species of insects, birds and plants.

‘Orchards are part of our national heritage so it’s vital that this collection is protected for future generations to enjoy. Each variety will be planted in two of a possible eight locations to help future-proof them from diseases while ensuring that there are plenty of opportunities for our visitors to enjoy them too.’

The trees are expected to begin bearing fruit in around seven years’ time, when it is hoped that many of the apples will be used to produce cider.

A volunteer collecting apples in the orchard at Killerton, Devon.
Volunteer collecting fallen apples in the orchard at Killerton, Devon
A volunteer collecting apples in the orchard at Killerton, Devon.

Under threat

In 2007, traditional orchards were designated a priority habitat under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. The habitat has declined rapidly since the 1950s, with more than 90 per cent of our traditional orchards in England lost in 60 years.

Steve Oram, orchard biodiversity officer for the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, helped to arrange the gifting of the national collection of cider apples to the National Trust.

Steve said: ‘Orchards are a mosaic habitat which contain elements of woodland, pasture, meadow grassland and are often bordered by hedgerows. This combination of habitats means that you have a unique wildlife haven supporting a vast range of species.

‘But orchards are first and foremost about the fruit and how we use it, which is why it is critical that this vast diversity of varieties is not only preserved for future generations but put to use today.’

Digging up the past

A recent conservation study of Montacute House in Somerset revealed that the 19th-century aspects of the estate were once home to several fruit orchards. Now 95 varieties of the cider apple trees will be planted in the grounds, helping to restore this historic landscape feature.

Area ranger, George Holmes, who is leading on the project at Montacute, said: 'Over the past few weeks we’ve been preparing the ground ready for the arrival of these trees. We’ve also been busy building the tree guards that are needed to keep the young tree trunks protected from any damage that would weaken the trees or make them susceptible to diseases.

‘Once the trees are in place, we will be opening up this area of the estate to visitors so that they can enjoy walking through the orchards.’

Making a visit

To see the new collection of cider apple trees, which will be planted over the next year, you can visit Killerton, Devon; Brockhampton, Herefordshire; Montacute, Somerset; Tyntesfield, North Somerset; Barrington Court, Somerset; Glastonbury, Somerset; Westbury Court Gardens, Gloucestershire and Golden Cap, Dorset.

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