Category Archives: apple tree

Securing the future of cider

Once-upon-a-time the countryside from Dorset to Herefordshire would have been filled with traditional orchards. The west country was at the heart of England’s status as an apple superpower. Orchards would have formed an important part of the fabric of rural life. And yet within a couple of generations orchards have almost disappeared from the countryside – statistics show that up to 90% of orchards have disappeared since the 1950s.

George Holmes, National Trust Area Ranger for South Somerset. Credit National Trust, Steven Haywood

Area Ranger George Holmes planting some of the Somerset cider apple varieties at Montacute House

Stumbling across an orchard is a little bit like finding a treasure chest. They’re places whose riches keep on giving whether with the arrival of spring and the blooming of the trees with the fragile flowers or the harvesting of the fruits in the golden glow of a warm autumnal day. These often small patches of land with knarled old trees are important havens for nature too – butterflies, bees, bats, birds see them as important food sources and wild flowers will carpet the orchard floors.

Orchards matter because of this rich cultural and natural heritage. There is an orchard near where I live, on the route up towards the summit of Solsbury Hill. It feels like a place untouched by the pace of modern life and I get a real sense of connection to the people that have loved and cherished this special place before me. The fruit trees come in all shapes and sizes and there is a slight wildness to the orchard, with its light-touch management. Wandering through this orchard always feels like a magical experience.

That is why the news that the National Trust has been given the national cider apple collection is so important. Over time 300 varieties of cider apple including Slack-ma-Girdle, Netherton Late Blower and Billy Down Pippin will be planted at eight places across the west country. It’s thanks to the vision and passion of Henry May that this collection exists at all and now the plan is to secure the future of these beautiful varieties and hopefully see them used by local cider-makers.

A countryside without orchards is unthinkable and the rise of community orchards, the work of organisations such as the Trust and People’s Trust for Endangered Species and growth of craft ciders, provides a hope that these fragile and wonderful places can survive.

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Celebrating everyday green spaces…

You can hardly call it a wood really, more of a patch of woodland at the top of a sloping green space. And yet in this area, sheltered by trees and thick with ivy and saplings, is a magical world, which could be miles from anywhere and yet is surrounded by housing.

Summerfield wood, as I’ve grandly called it, is at the end of a terrace of Victorian houses; and you’ve guessed it, it’s called Summerfield Terrace in east Bath.

Its a place that is passed by countless people everyday and yet it remains and feels like a hidden gem. Visible to the passer by as they wander past oblivious to its natural wonder. I probably walk past it a handful of times a week and I always think of the importance of this placed to nature and for the people that do use it whether to walk a dog, try to climb a tree or run down its gently slope.

During the winter months this small everyday green space is defined by the architectural brilliance of the naked branches of trees. The scrubby cover that mammals and birds love doesn’t exist and with a little rain it becomes wet under foot. It’s packed full of character, which is easily missed.

But when you get to autumn a lone mature apple tree, weighed down by the fruits of the harvest, hints at a possible agriculture past or perhaps a garden long gone, the only visible footprint of its existence this quintessential of English trees. 2014 was a good summer for this fine tree thick with a bounty of apple richness waiting to be harvested and covered in lichens and mosses in fifty shades of green.

On a visit to this woodland last summer, barely half an acre in size, I observed the comings and goings of a speckled wood butterfly seeking out its patch of warm sunshine to bathe its weary wings. Something that will live long in the memory, feeling as though it was exclusively for me.

So many places like this exist in Bath, in England, in the UK. They remain un-noticed by the many but hopefully loved by the few. And that is why we need to open our eyes to see places and make sure that we protect and care for them; otherwise that could be gone in the blink of an eye.

For me its these green spaces littered with trees, teaming with insects and home to the high pitched squawks of magpies that are the really special places. An oasis of calm and a place to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life in the city; a kind of paradise potentially lost here in Fairfield Park in Bath. And with views across towards the world famous Solsbury Hill and a steep tree covered hillside which come alive when drenched in beautiful morning sunlight.

You can create your own footpath through the dense undergrowth the cracking of the sticks as you make your way through, the laughter of my children as they hunt for ladybirds or snails to add to their collection. This very urban wild time as rich in sensory experience as any trip to a nature reserve. A place to discover the richness and intensity of nature on your doorstep; a place to return time and time again. Each passing season brings a new discovery and a reason for returning – making its a destination or place to call in on a journey.