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24 September 2014

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You are in: Devon > Nature > Nature Features > Rosy future for orchards?

Apple tree

Apples in Buckland Monachorum orchard

Rosy future for orchards?

After decades of decline, Devon's apple orchards are making a comeback. BBC Devon has been to meet an enthusiast in West Devon who is known as The Apple Lady.

There was a time when almost every farm in Devon had an area set aside for apple trees.

Those days are long since gone, and with them the on-tap supply of local cider, apple juice, and just-picked apples.

With supermarkets stocking little in the way of English apples, the future was looking pretty grim for our home grown produce.

But then, just in the nick of time, we realised we were in danger of losing an important part of our natural heritage.

Now, for the first time in decades, the number of orchards in Devon is actually increasing.

A butterfly

A butterfly in Buckland Monachorum orchard

That's not only good news for people who enjoy local fare, it's also great for wildlife which thrives in and around orchards.

Community orchards are springing up across Devon - among them, St Andrews School Community Orchard in Buckland Monachorum.

The main driving force behind the orchard was Celia Steven, who is known as The Orchard Lady.

It was Celia's great grandfather, Henry Merryweather, who started a nursery in 1856 using Bramley seedlings.

The story of the Bramley apple goes back to 1809, when a little girl by the name of Mary Ann Brailsford planted a pip in a garden in Southwell, Nottinghamshire.

The property was owned by a Mr Bramley, so when Celia's great grandfather asked for permission to take seedling to grow the apple commercially, permission was granted on the condition the apple was named after Bramley.

The Bramley Apple celebrates its 200th anniversary in 2009 (according to the Royal Horticultural Society's records), and Celia is working hard to ensure it is celebrated properly. She has applied to the Royal Mail to ask if a set of stamps can be released.

Celia said: "I've been trying to promote the Bramley and orchards. So many have been grubbed out, and as urbanisation grows, it is taking away a lot of our apple varieties."

Celia Steven

Celia Steven and a Bramley tree in the orchard

Celia started work on the community orchard in 1999. She secured a grant, and a local farmer - David Northmore - donated a corner of his land.

"We started with one Bramley tree," said Celia. "Now we have an orchard full of trees. The children love it - and they're learning to look after these trees, which is so important.  And it's bringing the wildlife back."

Buckland Monachorum is in the Tamar Valley, which has 34 types of apple. The National Trust at Cotehele has created The Mother Orchard using the apple collection handed over by James and Mary Martin. Here, you can sample many local varieties.

Celia has planted a lot of these varieties in the Buckland Monachorum Community Orchard, including Plympton Pippin (cooker/dessert), Pig's Nose (dessert), Devonshire Buckland (cooker), Devonshire Crimson (dessert), and Devonshire Quarendon (dessert).

Of course, there are Bramley trees too.

"These local varieties need protecting for the future," said Celia. "There are now grants available to help and I think for the first time - certainly in Devon - orchards are increasing.

"Apples are so versatile - you can eat them fresh, use them in cooking, for apple juice and for cider. The climate here in England gives us the extra taste in our apples  - the weather this year has helped the crop.

"Slowly, supermarkets are beginning to realise there is a public call for them to stock English apples. And farmers markets are also helping to save English apples."

The orchard gate

The orchard is a wildlife haven

In Devon, apples tend to be grown for the cider industry - and in 2007, cider was the fastest growing food item in the UK, according to a national survey.

Orchard Link has played a big part in the resurgence of Devon's orchards. The organisation gives advice to orchard managers and those with an interest in orchards.

Ben Pike, vice chair of Orchard Link, said: "There has been a revival in recent years. More are being planted than are being grubbed out.

"And I am heartened that supermarkets appear to be more interested in stocking English apples."

The People's Trust for Endangered Species is carrying out a Traditional Orchard Survey in seven counties, including Devon and Somerset.

Some 20 volunteers are taking part in Devon. The aim is to find and preserve orchards, and to encourage traditional methods of orchard management, as they are hotspots for wildlife.

So, whichever way you look at it, orchards are fabulous.

Celia said: "Just look at what we've got here in the orchard. You can see butterflies, listen to the birds, and it's just so peaceful.

"I think we've gone full circle - people want to see orchards again, and want to have the choice of English apples in shops, which is great."

last updated: 21/02/2008 at 15:53
created: 25/09/2007

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