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Open Country
Sat  6.10 - 6.35am
Thurs 1.30 - 2.00pm (rpt)
Local people making their corner of rural Britain unique
This week
Saturday 4 November 2006
Listen to this programme in full
In this week’s Open Country, Helen Mark is taken blindfold to a secret location to see what is believed to be the only mature Perry Pear tree in the world of the variety Coppy.
It was purely by chance that Perry maker Tom Oliver discovered the Coppy Perry Pear tree in a friend’s orchard in Herefordshire. The tree, which is estimated to be 150 years old, only produces a large crop every three years and even then it only gives about a third of a ton, which compared to other varieties is low. It is probably for this reason, as well as the fact that its small fruit has to be picked by hand and processed quickly, that this variety, popular in the mid 1850’s, was not widely replanted when mechanisation came in.

However, the variety Coppy is not the only rare Perry Pear. Many varieties are down to just a handful of known trees. To ensure that as many as possible Perry Pear varieties were saved Charles Martell, back in the 1970’s began The National Collection of Perry Pears at The Three Counties Showground in Malvern, as well as planting several varieties on his own farm in Gloucestershire.

Helen also visits Farmer Parker, whose main business is growing cider trees. However, in 2006 Farmer planted 17 acres of newly-grafted Perry Pear trees, of 18 different varieties, including 7 Coppy trees, grafted from the original tree, discovered by Tom Oliver. Such a large planting of Perry pears is a rare sight nowadays.

As we hear from Adrian Darby, the president of Plantlife, old orchards are a valuable habitat for wildlife. Many Perry trees live to 300 years old and so their decaying branches support a host of fauna and flora.

The future for Perry pear orchards will only be safeguarded if Perry continues to gain in popularity. Perry making is supported by Three Counties Cider and Perry Association. Perry lends itself to the small producer since a single tree can produce 2-3 tons of fruit, the pears need to be hand-picked and it is possible to make Perry from a single variety. It is often said that trees take so long to mature that one plants “pears for heirs”, though there are some varieties that can produce fruit after just ten years.  The Three Counties Perry Slow Food has embraced Perry as a presidium, which means they are supporting Perry producers to make and then market a high quality product.
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