Herefordshire’s Orchards - A Priceless Asset

October 23 2008



Herefordshire Orchard

Herefordshire has more orchards than any other county in the UK and a new study has declared them to be a priceless asset which must be protected.

With more than 3000 orchards, mostly growing cider apples, covering around 5,500 hectares they bring in vital cash for county farmers. Now, an in-depth survey by the Herefordshire Orchards Community Evaluation project, managed by the Bulmer Foundation on behalf of the Orchard Topic Group, shows the orchards have an even greater value on what in the business world is commonly referred to as ‘the triple bottom line’ – the impact on the environment, social and economic life of a community.

Six diverse orchards were chosen for the survey which not only examined the financial records, but looked closely at the natural species and wildlife in the orchards and the overall affect on biodiversity and sustainability, as well as a significant contribution to tourism. Even an orchard whose crop fails to make a profit, has a big monetary value, perhaps twice as high as the traditional bottom line, when its ecological and social importance are taken into account, says David Marshall, who led the project, the largest of its kind ever undertaken.

The work undertaken by dozens of volunteer researchers, proving the real worth of orchards dotted across the county, has won the acclaim of Forum for the Future, one of the nation’s leading sustainable development organisations. Dr James Taplin of the Forum said, ‘Local groups placed high importance upon the orchards in their communities, even where they had no public access, and their role in defining local identity and a feel for the landscape were common themes through the research.’

Each of the orchards examined were found to host hundreds of different natural species, some of which are on the endangered list – and in one orchard even discovered an example of the Golden Eye Lichen, believed to be extinct in the UK.  The millions of trees play a vital role in combating global warming, while the impact of orchards helps give Herefordshire its unique rural landscape which in turn boosts tourism.

Sixty four per cent of Britain’s orchards have disappeared since 1950 – and while in Herefordshire orchards remain prominent the county has 40% fewer than 70 years ago. The report and its findings will play a key role in persuading Government, planners and environmental bodies, that the remaining orchards must be protected.

The cider industry, the biggest user of locally grown apples, continually urges Government, and especially the Treasury, to take into account the need to defend the financial viability of apple growing, when setting duty on cider. Said Fenella Tyler of Bulmers, chair of the National Association of Cider Makers, ‘As a result of this report, we can now properly demonstrate that the nation’s orchards are worth so much more than their value to farmers alone.’

David Marshall, who co-ordinated the researchers and prepared the report, said: ‘It is a great tribute to all those who took part, the farmers, researchers, and local people, that the study has been hailed a huge success and that it will bring the importance of orchards as a sustainable resource into direct focus at a national level.’

The study was supported by the European Union (EAGGF) and DEFRA through the Leader+ programme, the National Association of Cider Makers, Bulmers, the Sustainable Development Fund, a DEFRA initiative in the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Natural England, Herefordshire Council and the Bulmer Foundation.

To coincide with the launch of the report, The Orchard, an art exhibition in which renowned artist Edwina Bridgeman gives her own unique interpretation of an orchard and what goes on within it, is being staged at Hereford Cider Museum until November 22.

To more information go to: http://www.herefordorchards.co.uk 

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