Today is Apple Day. The fruit of England and a fruit celebrated across the UK. Its roots go deep into our cultural heritage and apples have been at the forefront of the human story. Think of the apple in the garden of Eden. Think of Newton’s eureka moment as the apple fell on his head. And think of the countless still life paintings featuring the humble apple through the ages.
These islands are really an apple superpower with thousands of varieties and a wonderful array of quirky names. And apples help to define and shape our relationship with the seasons: the arrival of spring with the delicate and fragile apple blossom and the heart of autumn as the fruits of the harvest are collected.
And yet things haven’t been rosy in the apple garden in the last sixty years. Sixty (yes sixty) per cent of orchards have vanished since the 1950s. In Devon and Kent that figure jumps to a staggering ninety per cent. They have been lost to development, paddocks and have been grubbed up. Something that we took for granted (like heathland and meadows) have slowly started to disappear on our watch.
As I type I can glance over to a bowl brimming with English cox’s and my mouth waters at the prospect of the first crunch and the sweet nectar like juices massaging my taste buds. Apples are a fruit that we love and can’t get enough of and yet more and more of them are imported from half way across the world often tasting pretty bland. The deep irony is that we have the perfect climate to grow them.
Wildlife, like us, has a strong and deep connection with orchards. They provide a great habitat, ideal for a huge range of nature from noble chafer beetles to mistletoe thrushes. Seeing an orchard on a sun drenched dew laiden morning is a sight to behold; there is something so magical about this scene common to generations of people.
Things, thankfully, are starting to look better for the humble apple. The wonderful work of Common Ground in setting up Apple Day twenty plus years ago and championing varieties from across the UK is paying dividends. Community orchards have been popping up across the land and organisations such as the National Trust and Natural England have looked to help revive the fortunes of orchards and restore their rightful place at the heart of our food and natural heritage.
Collecting apples in the autumn is one of life’s pleasures. As a kid growing up in Wiltshire I have fond memories of a local orchard near my school; munching into the season’s new offering. Now I take my children to a local orchard to harvest apples from ancient knarled old trees.
So, stop and think about the orchards near to where you live and what you can do to save our orchards. You only need five fruit trees for an orchard and its a great place for people come together to celebrate the changing of the seasons.