The English apple as we know it could soon be a thing of the past. A scheme set up by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs to promote the maintenance of arable land may force orchard owners to destroy their trees before January 1 next year. Under the scheme, tree-less land would be classified as farmland and worth an annual £340 per hectare. If left as orchards, the land will not be eligible for the government subsidy.

‘Ideally orchards need to be taken out of apple production and used for another crop before being used as an orchard again’, said Simon Russell of the National Association of Cider Makers, ‘Unfortunately the rules do not allow this at present. It will be the smaller orchards of a few acres that are more likely to be destroyed as they are less productive.’

In 1987 there were 1,500 registered apple and pear growers in Britain. There are now just 500. The depletion is largely due to the monopoly supermarkets have on the market, which sees them preferring to buy a few varieties in bulk from France, USA and New Zealand. Although supermarkets now stock double the number of varieties they had on their shelves 5 years ago, as little as 38% of apples sold in Asda and Tesco stores last year were grown in the UK.

‘Consumers prefer cosmetically perfect apples over those with a few blemishes that are otherwise of a high quality. This is hard for the traditional English varieties,’ said Sandra Bell of Friends of the Earth. ‘Some fruit is often rejected for being too red and some too green, resulting in large amounts of wasted fruit. The English Apple is in danger of becoming a niche market.’

Written by Lalage Snow