One of life’s real pleasures has to be picking apples straight from the tree. I love wandering into an orchard and harvesting some of this quinessentially British fruit. Whether it’s an eating apple or a cooking apple to know which tree it comes from is pretty satisfying.
As we celebrate apple day the UK can rightly claim to be an apple superpower but we need to do much more to make sure that we don’t take them for granted. With thousands of varieties dotted across the four home nations today is an appropriate time to reflect on their importance to our cultural and natural heritage.
In the last six decades orchards have vanished on a vast scale. Apple rich counties such as Devon and Kent have seen 90% of orchards disappearing in a couple of generations. Once a common sight in the countryside and on farms orchards have become endangered habitats.
This matters because of the symbolism that orchards have in terms of our relationship with the seasons and also the coming together of communities. Also, the small patchwork of orchards across the UK provide important places for nature to call home – from wild flowers to bats and rare bugs.
Not far from where I live there is a small and old orchard next to the road up to the summit of Solsbury Hill. The trees look pretty old and its marked as an orchard on some fairly old Ordnance Survey maps. I first meandered amongst the trees on a winter’s day, imagining the arrival of spring and the bounty of autumn. Returning on a crisp September day and picking some of the apples made me feel connected with the generations of people who would have also loved these trees.
The plight of orchards has begun to slowly change. Organisations such as the National Trust and People’s Trust for Endangered Species have begun the fightback and community orchards have become really popular.
For me apples and orchards are a key part of our national story and we all need to do our bit to make sure that future generation have the joy of wandering through an orchard and picking an apple.