PHOTO: Martin Thatcher visits Weston Hospicecare, meeting community fundraisers Abi and Kirsty, to see apple trees planted for the Thatchers Community Orchard Project [Copyright Neil Phillips Photo and Film Ltd]
Community groups around the country have been planting apple trees this spring thanks to The Thatchers Community Orchard Project.
Attracting hundreds of applications in the project’s third year, from as far afield as Aberdeen to Worthing, the Somerset cider maker has supported over 100 groups wanting to enhance their communities, with 500 apple trees donated this year.
Including residents’ associations, parish councils, allotment groups, and care homes, five apple trees were donated to each of the successful applicants. To apply, they needed to explain why planting apple trees would make a difference to their communities.
Thatchers Community Orchard Project – Martin Thatcher meets Emma, Nicky, Elaine and Bethan from Weston Super Mare Cricket Club who received apple trees through the project.
Copyright Neil Phillips Photo and Film Ltd
“It’s always a real pleasure to distribute apple trees to organisations who really care about the community around them,” says Martin Thatcher, fourth generation of the cider making family. “We’ve been brought up with trees all around us at Myrtle Farm – so through this project we’re looking to spread apple tree love across the UK.
“With applications from the North of Scotland to the South West, from both rural and urban communities, by donating apple trees we can help communities in so many different ways – from helping green urban residential communities, providing an area of peace and solitude to care homes, and an educational resource to schools and colleges.”
With leading ciders such as Gold and Haze to its name, and over 500 acres of its own orchards in Somerset, Thatchers knows a thing or two about planting apple trees.
“There’s no better tree than an apple tree,” continues Martin. “From the tree’s beauty in spring when in full blossom, to the fascination of seeing the fruit develop throughout the summer, to the excitement of harvest, there’s always something new to see in an orchard.
“The enthusiasm we’ve seen amongst volunteers supporting their communities is inspirational, and we’re delighted to be playing our part with this community tree planting project.”
This is the third year the Somerset cider maker has run its Community Orchard Project, and brings the total number of organisations supported since launch to 175, with almost 1000 apple trees so far donated and planted across the country.
“The project shares our family’s passion for apple trees, building communities and constant support of the environment and ecosystem around us today and for the future,” Martin concludes.
Thatchers Community Orchard Project was first run in 2021. The project attracted such demand in its first year, the family run cider maker decided to more than double the number of trees it gave away in its second year, and in its third year doubling the number of organisations it has supported.
The specially created wildlife area, which will extend to approximately an acre in size, will run alongside the popular Strawberry Line cycle and footpath in Sandford, with family-run cider maker Thatchers hoping it will make a real contribution to the local environment and the biodiversity of the area.
Emma Pyle, Thatchers Cider, helps plant wildflowers in a new conservation area being planned by the Somerset Cider Maker
Two areas of coppice woodland will border a central grassland plateau. Planting of 169 trees and hedges includes native species such as hawthorn and hazel, English oak and field maple, together with more planting of grasses and nectar-rich wildflowers. This planting will help create sheltered micro-habitats, and will aid the important retention of a dark corridor for bats and other wildlife.
A special group of ten trees along The Strawberry Line has been planted and dedicated to the Queens Green Canopy campaign, celebrating the Platinum Jubilee in 2022.
Eleanor Thatcher, right, and Andy Jones, Avon Wildlife Trust, plant wildflowers in a new conservation area being planned by Somerset cider maker Thatchers
With its 500 acres of Somerset apple orchard, Thatchers is already home to a diverse habitat, and at Myrtle Farm has recorded 13 species of bat, as well as birds which are on the BOCC (Birds of Conservation Concern) Red and Amber lists, including house sparrow and redwing, grey wagtail and mistle thrush. It is hoped that the new conservation area will become a familiar home to many of these species, with the trees and plants selected to create a protected and foraging-rich haven.
“It’s important to us to maintain the biodiversity of our site here at Myrtle Farm,” says Gary Delafield, Operations Director at Thatchers. “As a cider maker rooted in the rural community, we’ve always been surrounded by trees and farmland, and recognise the role that a biodiverse environment plays. Myrtle Farm is already a very vibrant place for wildlife, and with this new conservation area, we’ll be increasing its biodiversity by over 85%.”
The habitat is expected provide a picturesque and interesting stop off point along the Strawberry Line, which is designated as a public footpath running alongside Myrtle Farm.
Thatchers has been working closely with the Avon Wildlife Trust in creating the area, together with arboricultural consultancy Cambium.
Fifth generation cider maker Eleanor Thatcher has been closely involved in the planning of the conservation area.
“Myrtle Farm is where I’ve grown up, and I’ve been used to seeing animals such as deer and hare in the orchards from an early age. It’s so important for us to encourage wildlife at Myrtle Farm,” she says. “This new conservation area will bring the wildlife right into the heart of Myrtle Farm, and we can’t wait to see which visitors will be the first to arrive in the Spring.”
Thatchers and the Avon Wildlife Trust will be erecting information boards alongside the conservation area, featuring more detail about the planting and resident wildlife.
Eleanor concludes, “We are no strangers to planting trees – in fact over the last decade Thatchers has planted some 158,000 apple trees in our orchards. And in 2022 we’re continuing to donate hundreds of apple trees to organisations and charities taking part in our Community Orchard Project. Our orchards are already havens for wildlife, but this conservation area is extra special, creating a new protected habitat for birds, animals and insects here at Myrtle Farm.”
With the largest and most diverse collection of apples used in cider making under its care, Somerset cider maker Thatchers has been partnering with the University of Bristol in a ground-breaking project that is using DNA fingerprinting techniques to identify apple tree varieties.
With many old and heritage varieties of apple trees beginning to disappear, the project is using genotyping – a process that compares DNA to find the differences in genetic make-up – to identify different varieties of cider apples.
Prof Keith Edwards, University of Bristol, left, with Chris Muntz-Torres, Thatchers Cider, collecting leaf samples for a ground breaking project that uses DNA fingerprinting techniques to identify apple tree varieties.
Led by Professor Keith Edwards from the School of Biological Sciences and post-graduate student Alex Graham [pictured main photo], scientists from the university visited Thatchers’ Exhibition Orchard to gather leaf samples for genotyping and thus identification. The biggest collection of apples for cider making in the country, Thatchers’ Exhibition Orchard contains hundreds of different varieties of apple tree, many of which were saved from the Long Ashton Research Station when cider research stopped in 1985. The researchers have also been out to other Thatchers’ orchards to gather samples, helping them create the largest database of apple tree fingerprints in the world, with over 2,500 genotypes present.
Chris Muntz-Torres, Thatchers Farm Manager has been involved in the project since its inception. “This is such a fantastic piece of research which will help us understand even more about the trees in our orchards. As with any research, you’re not always sure what’s going to be found. Although we think we know about the trees in our Exhibition Orchard with detailed plans we’ve compiled over the years as new trees have been planted, you never know, the research may identify variety that’s been lost and now rediscovered. That would be such an exciting find!
“By using the DNA technique to tell us more about the pedigree of each variety in our Exhibition orchard, we hope to be able to start creating new varieties of apple for cider making with the characteristics that we love as cider makers.”
Professor Edwards says, “By taking a leaf and fingerprinting it, we are in effect creating a barcode for that tree. And from that we are able to produce a reliable process for easy identification in the future.
“By visiting the UK’s most influential orchards, such as at Brogdale, The National Botanic Garden of Wales, and the Thatchers Exhibition Orchard, we’re creating a database that will be a valuable resource like no other for all cider makers.”
The researchers also asked local communities to send in leaf samples from unidentified apple trees in their gardens or allotments to help in the project.
“This is a 20-30 year process,” adds Alex Graham, who has collected some 2,500 leaf samples for the research. “The results will tell us what varieties we have now and the pedigree of each, assisting with future breeding of new varieties, perhaps high in tannin, or disease resistant. We need to make sure this knowledge is secure for the future of cider making.”
Family cider maker Thatchers Cider has over 500 acres of its own orchard in Somerset. By choosing its apple varieties carefully, and ensuring an exceptionally high standard of fruit grown in its orchards, Thatchers cider makers have created a distinctive style for its products, helping it grow to be the largest independently owned cider maker in the UK.
Award-winning cider maker, Sandford Orchards, is proud to announce that it is working with scientists from Bristol University to identify and preserve ancient apple varieties in their beautiful historic orchards in mid Devon. This ground breaking research aims to fingerprint thousands of cider apple trees in order to locate and propagate unique and threatened varieties.
Barny Butterfield, Chief Cidermaker at Sandford Orchards comments: “Apples are at the heart of everything that we do. Our cider mill is the oldest working mill in the UK and some of our orchards are centuries old. We take our stewardship of these precious natural wonders very seriously and we jumped at the opportunity to unlock some of the secrets of these orchards that have long been forgotten. By mapping our apple trees we will be able to preserve them for future generations, ensure diversity in our stock and secure many more centuries of cider enjoyment.”
Keith Edwards, Professor of Crop Genetics at Bristol University, is leading the new research which aims to identify and map the nation’s traditional cider apple varieties. By punching a small hole in leaves from individual trees, his team is able to collect samples for DNA testing, while geographically tagging the particular tree using the What3Words geo-positioning system.
The team has spent the summer taking DNA samples from hundreds of Sandford Orchards’ apple trees and has been surprised by the varieties being grown in these older orchards in the Crediton area, which has long been famed for its cider.
Professor Edwards explains: “We thought that, being well-established orchards, we might only find a few different cider apple varieties in each, but that has not been the case. We have fingerprinted around 400 samples and I believe there will be a great many different varieties, many of them unique.”
Barny is awaiting the results of the research with bated breath. He says: “By using genetic-fingerprinting techniques we are able to wind back the clock. We can map a particular variety and see where it crops up in places like Devon and Somerset. That allows us to start building the picture so that hopefully we can reclaim some old varieties which make great cider. You only need one apple tree to propagate a whole new orchard so once we have identified key varieties that we would like to increase our stock of we can start planning for the future.”
He continues: “Using the new techniques we will find apples that could be important in changing the type of ciders we make. Each apple variety will behave in a certain way according to the local conditions and, by having a much better knowledge of the rich diversity of trees in our orchards, we might find wonderful cider apples which are ready to take on the challenge of a changing environment.”
As well as the environmental benefits of preserving a diverse range of apple trees for the future, Barny is also thrilled at the prospect of a renaissance of delicious single batch ciders. He explains: “So it might be that we find a tree that is the only one of its kind in the whole country. Or perhaps there’s just one in my orchard but a few elsewhere. The great thing is, because we are mapping the trees, I am going to be able to collect enough fruit from those trees to make a small amount of single-apple cider.”
Barny continues: “ We are keenly awaiting the results of this research but whatever Professor Edwards and his team uncover the outcome can only be positive for the environment and for cider-lovers.”
For further information on Sandford Orchards please visit www.sandfordorchards.co.uk
In its ongoing support of the world around us – and of course its passion for apple trees – Thatchers Cider would like to help community groups and charities plant more trees this spring. So the Somerset cider maker is offering ten community groups the chance to receive ten apple trees each, ready for planting in their own community orchards or local environments.
So if you are part of a group that is planting trees this spring, simply let Thatchers know about your organisation, your orchard, and what planting trees means to you. Then on 18th February 2021 Thatchers will select the ten communities who’ll receive these very special apple trees.
“During these very difficult times, we’ve all come to appreciate even more the benefits of outdoor space,” says Martin Thatcher, fourth generation cider maker. “For those in towns and cities a community orchard can make such a difference to people’s well-being; in health and care environments small orchards too can provide respite and tranquillity throughout the year.”
Thatchers has over 500 acres of its own orchards in the West Country, that lock up approximately 182 tonnes of carbon each year.
Thatchers’ orchards are not just the source of raw ingredients for cider though. They are a haven for wildlife and an important contributor to the local ecosystem. Insects and invertebrates, birds, bats, pheasant, deer rabbits and hares to name but a few. And of course bees are vital to the health of our trees. With hives throughout our orchards, honey bees help us ensure effective pollination at blossom time.
Community groups wishing to be considered for the chance to receive ten trees from Thatchers Cider, should email email@example.com explaining about your community and why planting trees is important to you. Or visit Thatchers Facebook page.
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[Experiment set up by Catherine Chapman]
There are new updates, on the Apple Growers tab, about the progress of some of the apple research which is part funded by NACM via the Collaborative Training Partnership for Fruit Crop Research.
We have 2 new students this year:
Hayden Tempest studying “Radio-tagging earwigs to understand the breakdown in successful woolly apple aphid, Eriosoma lanigerum (Hausmann) control”
Marios Stamatiou studying “Managing living mulch (cover crops) to improve soil health (including nutrient cycling) and encourage natural enemies”
The full list of students and their studies are listed and if you would like further information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org