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.”
The Cider Barn at Middle Farm is a cider-lover’s dream with established favourites and regular new introductions.
Director of Middle Farm, Rod Marsh, says, “Autumn brings the apple harvest when we celebrate our national fruit in all its manifestations!”
“We’re proud to offer an ever-evolving range of ciders and perries in our Cider Barn. New this month five ciders from Wilding Cider, lovingly crafted by Sam and Beccy Leach on their 4.5-acre smallholding in Somerset, and the latest releases from Albert Johnson of Ross on Wye Cider and Perry’s including his collaboration with the Queer Brewing Project – Dancing Required”
The Celts are thought to have brought cider making to these islands. Some 5,000 years later, half of all the apples grown in the U.K. are used to make cider for the largest cider market in the world. The varieties of apples used, natural or cultured yeasts and an individual makers’ process all create a distinctly unique and characterful finish, as do the whisky, oak and port barrels sometimes used for maturation.
Middle Farm sells straight from the cask, affording visitors the unique opportunity to taste and compare before they buy.
As the nights draw in and the temperatures drop, the change of season is welcomed with steaming hot mulled cider, a perennial favourite, to enjoy whilst you shop, or to take home in a container.
Apples from local orchards are hand-pressed for fresh juice daily and, by appointment, customers can bring their own fruit to have it pressed every day of the week. There are also between forty and fifty bottled varietal apple juices made by local growers– a flavour for every palate.
Apple-based drinks aren’t the only thing on offer. “Every year we celebrate the unparalleled diversity of our national fruit with as big an array of freshly-picked apple and pear varieties as we can fit in our farm shop. From now until after Christmas there will be upwards of twenty varieties to delight our customers, some from our own farmhouse orchard, but all from within a thirty-mile radius, sourced from low-input, often organic, sustainable orchards.”
About Middle Farm: https://middlefarm.com/
Nestling at the foot of Firle Beacon on the South Downs in Sussex, Middle Farm is a 625 acre working family farm. Six generations of farming have given us a unique insight into British food production. The highest standards of animal welfare and environmental care show in our farm produce. We demand those same high standards from everyone whose produce we stock.
[Photo: Eleanor Thatcher, fifth generation cider maker, at the orchard in Christon]
The apples come from one of the West Country’s oldest, and most influential, orchards. With its ongoing research into apple varieties, Thatchers Cider is celebrating the work of the former National Fruit and Cider Institute with its new limited edition cider.
Thatchers has blended apples from one of Somerset’s oldest and most influential orchards for its new, limited edition Christon Single Orchard Cider.
The standard orchard in Christon, nestled at the foot of the Mendip Hills, was originally planted back in 1928, and is home to traditional apple varieties including Court Royal, Frederick and Stembridge Cluster.
The Christon orchard plays a very special part of cidermaking history. It was planted by cider pioneers at the National Fruit and Cider Institute at the Long Ashton Research Station in Bristol in the early days of cider research. It was these cider pioneers who really were the founding fathers of the modern cider industry, with their ground-breaking research into apple varieties and regional growing conditions. Their work on cider making techniques, including yeast selection, is still valued by cider makers today.
Fourth generation cider maker Thatchers has harvested the orchard – that is home to 25 different varieties of apple – four times throughout the season, ensuring each variety has been captured at its perfect ripeness. The apples were taken straight from the orchard to the mill, and pressed straight away, retaining all the individual characteristics of the fruit, and the orchard.
The fresh juice was cold fermented in Thatchers’ cider barn, carefully preserving the flavour and character of the fruit. Each small batch of juice has then been blended together before being matured in oak to create the robust and full flavoured cider.
The mix of apples blended into the new, unique Christon Single Orchard cider brings a depth and complexity to this cider. Just 10,000 bottles are being produced of the 8.4% abv, medium dry, full-bodied cider.
Richard Johnson, chief cidermaker at Thatchers, says,
“I love this traditional orchard at Christon which oozes character and tradition. There’s a real mix of heritage apples here, that we’ve blended into this really bold, full bodied cider, perfect for the onset of colder days and darker evenings when a smooth, warming cider is so welcome.”
By using apples from one single orchard, the cider makers at Thatchers recognise how the soil and climatic conditions have a huge influence on the fruit’s flavour and characteristics, just as the researchers at Long Ashton did back in the early 1900s. The Christon orchard is nestled on south facing slopes at the foot of Somerset’s Mendip Hills, with a red loam topsoil over a clay subsoil. The varieties harvested from Christon orchard also include Brown Snout, Yarlington Mill, Yellow Styre, and White Close Pippin.
Liz Copas, one of the UK’s leading pomologists and formerly of the Long Ashton Research Station has helped identify all the apples – and perry pears – in the Christon orchard.
She says, “This has to be one of the most influential orchards in modern British cider making. It’s a real privilege to have the chance to walk through these trees some of which are coming up to 100 years old. All cidermakers today owe much to the work that was carried out at Long Ashton Research Station, and Thatchers have captured that essence in a bottle with this new cider.”
With its forty acres of trial orchards, including its living library Exhibition Orchard, Thatchers is carrying on the Long Ashton tradition of research into apple varieties, growing conditions and their suitability for cider making. Its “100 Tree Trial” has seen 10,000 new trees of different apple varieties planted in Thatchers own hedgerow style, with all these varieties having either performed well in the Exhibition Orchard, or having a reputation for producing excellent cider.
Richard concludes, “Trialling different apple varieties and researching how they perform in varying cider styles is such an important part of our ability to innovate and create ciders for today’s shopper. At the same time, we are able to look back at the legacy of the Long Ashton Research Station and carry that on into our work today.”
Christon Single Orchard cider is part of the Thatchers Cider Barn range, and is available online and from the Thatchers Cider shop in Sandford, price £2.55 for 500ml.
It was two years in the making, but now Thatchers Zero, the Somerset cider maker’s first alcohol-free cider, has been named Best No and Low Cider in the UK by industry magazine Imbibe.
Thatchers Zero was unveiled in January 2020 after a long development journey, and only when the cider maker was 100% happy with the cider’s taste, depth and appearance. By using a unique production process, Thatchers has been able to create an alcohol-free cider that doesn’t compromise on quality – and offers the premium experience people are looking for when enjoying a Thatchers cider.
Thatchers Zero is full of appley aromas and crisp refreshment. With a beautifully bright, golden appearance, crisp, medium dry taste, and fruity aroma, it is crafted using a selection of Thatchers favourite bittersweet apple varieties, creating a 0.0% cider with body, smoothness and character.
The Imbibe No and Low Taste Awards were launched to reflect the quality and range of products in what has become a significant sector of the drinks industry in recent times – one that has grown during lockdown and is predicted to continue to grow in the years to come.
Like all other ciders in its range, Thatchers Zero is gluten free and is suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
Thatchers Zero is available in high street retailers including Sainsbury’s and Co-Op, RRP £1.85. It is also available from specialist retailers including Dry Drinker and Wise Bartender, and from Thatchers www.thatcherscider.co.uk