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Sustain / Orchards Project

Project background

Loss of traditional orchards

Orchards were once a significant part of our landscape throughout Britain being a major apple, pear and plum growing country. Almost every farm, country and suburban house had its own fruit trees. Apples are by far the most popular of UK fruit. However 60 per cent of UK apple orchards have been lost since 1970 and losses of traditional orchards may be even higher as official statistics are based mainly on commercial orchards. In some cases EU grants have paid for orchards to be grubbed up. Sadly this equates to nearly two thirds UK apple orchards lost in less than 30 years. Urban development, the need for more profitable crops, and imports  of cheap fruit from abroad has caused the loss of many small orchards.

Kent, which was know as the “Garden of England”, has seen 85% of its orchards disappear in the last 50 years; and Herefordshire which had many forests of fruit trees, now has only 10% left. Devon has lost 90% since World War II.  The loss of orchards has meant more intensive production in those that remain, at the expense of wildlife and of different varieties.

There are as many as 6,000 varieties of dessert and cooking apples and hundreds more cider apples. Today ten varieties account for 92 per cent of the UK's area of eating-apple orchards. The two most dominant British are varieties the Cox and Bramley. At the peak of British apple season, only around a dozen apple varieties can be found for sale even in our largest supermarkets. Ironically some stores stock more varieties out of season with over two thirds of them imported from countries such as Spain, France, USA, China, South Africa and New Zealand; these include varieties such as Pink Lady, Royal Gala, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith.

In supermarkets it's very rare to see the traditional varieties such as Discovery, D'Arcy Spice, Bess Pool, Peasgood Nonsuch, Marriage maker, Lord Lambourne, Bleinheim Orange, Dr Harvey, Tydeman's Late Orange. Some of the names evoke local histories of apple trees, communities and cultures. Before the globalisation of our food economy, many of these varieties would have had particular local, culinary and seasonal uses. There are also the hundreds of varieties of damsons, plums, cob nuts, cherries and pears which we rarely see today.

There has been already a lot of work done to save and promote traditional orchards, by organisations such as Common Ground  They introduced the celebration of Apples with a national Apple Day that takes place in October, now in its 18th year, and celebrated all over the country.

Orchards Project: During 2006 and 2007, Sustain worked on a national orchard project with Leader+ (European Union funded programme of rural development) to conserve and bring into sustainable management traditional orchards in 6 Leader+ funded areas: Hereford Rivers; Somerset Levels & Moors; Teinbridge; North West Devon; Mid Kent, and Cumbria Fells & Dales.

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