Marcher Apple Network (MAN) was formed in December 1993.
It arose from an initiative by the Countryside Council for Wales to ascertain the extent and distribution of traditional orchards in trial areas in Wales, and to assess their conservation value. Two members of the Brecknock Wildlife Trust, with a few like-minded apple enthusiasts from Herefordshire, had been surveying the old orchards of the Welsh Marches for three years and were able to assist with the project. It was subsequently recommended that a formally constituted group should be set up to act as a pioneer organisation in Wales.
So began the Marcher Apple Network with ten founder members.
The objectives for MAN were then established to:
- find, identify and perpetuate old apple varieties, especially those of local origin,
- conserve those varieties which have been noted as doing well in the area.
The Welsh Marches has long been renowned as a fruit-growing region. However, during the 20th century, particularly after World War 2, there was a dramatic decline in the area under orchard cultivation. The type of orchards also changed; traditional orchards of standard trees were replaced by commercial orchards of intensively managed small trees. Until 1993 incentive payments were available to farmers for grubbing out orchards. It was estimated that over 90% of our traditional orchards disappeared during the 20th century. Likewise the number of fruit varieties under cultivation, and available for sale to the public, had been severely curtailed.
Against this background the formation of MAN proceeded very rapidly and with huge enthusiasm. Soon MAN members were out surveying local gardens and orchards in search of old varieties of apples, such as Herefordshire Pomeroy, Prince’s Pippin and Crimson Quoining. When found, scions from these were propagated to form young trees.
Two sites, at Tredomen and Westhope, which had kindly been offered by local land owners, Roger Williams and Mollie Beaumont respectively, were soon set up as orchards and planting of the endangered varieties began.
Early MAN events included holding Apple Days at Village Halls where visitors were encouraged to tell of the whereabouts of old trees that might be something rare. MAN Members were already attending regional shows such as “The Big Apple” and the Malvern Autumn Fruit Show, assembling displays of unusual apples and offering to identify fruit brought in by visitors. At the Malvern Show in 1995 a display of 18 unknown varieties of apple was mounted in a bid to discover whether any visitors recognized them, and a poster listing “Wanted Apples” was displayed! (see fig.xx)
With funding from the Prince of Wales Commission, MAN continued its surveying work and, with publication of the report to the Countryside Council for Wales, the serious decline in orchards over the twentieth century became clear.
Since summer 1995 annual Newsletters have been produced which provided the information for this account of MAN’s history.
In 1995 the Countryside Council for Wales asked MAN to carry out surveys of twelve farm orchards near Llandeilo, in Dyfed. As a result, Marged Nicolas, Pig yr Wydd and Twll Tin Gwydd were found, all three varieties absent from the National Apple Register of the British Isles. Clearly searching for lost varieties was showing results and becoming exciting.
Finds started to come thick and fast from orchard surveys and the Autumn Shows, giving more material for grafting with subsequent planting in our orchard at Tredomen. Another orchard, Croft Pendarren, was established thanks to the generosity of the land-owner William Gibbs, where 48 standard trees of traditional apple varieties grown in the Welsh Marches have now been planted.
Surveys of farm orchards underlined their historical importance to the household economy. Many orchards contained several types of top-fruit with a mixture of eaters, cookers and cider varieties of apple chosen to provide a considerable measure of self-sufficiency. The sad condition of many orchards was evident with rampant mistletoe and ring-barking by livestock. It reinforced the urgency with which MAN was seeking to find and conserve traditional varieties before trees died. Some apple varieties posed identification problems, eg, Keswick Codlin, Lord Grosvenor and their progeny Emneth Early were difficult to differentiate; others still remain puzzling after 20 years, including a Lady’s Finger type cooker found at Graig Farm near Penybont. There was much debate about whether Dr.Harvey and Waltham Abbey Seedling are distinctly different, and that has been a perennial chestnut….oops! we mean Apple. Will DNA analysis (see later) help to resolve this?
Publicity expanded and membership grew quite rapidly during 1996 with contacts made throughout the British Isles. MAN was much in demand as a leader in stimulating interest on old varieties. Two early attempts were made with a BASIC program to develop computer assistance in identifying apples. [We now recognize that such a task required the dedicated resources available at the NFC and by FruitID!]
In 1997 MAN reported brief sightings of Charles Ross on Marks and Spencer’s shelves! There were additional events at Orleton, Hereford, Llandeilo, and Croft Castle.
From 1994 MAN had been providing exhibitions of traditional fruit, rather as was done in the 1880s when Dr Robert Hogg and Dr Henry Graves Bull saw danger in old British varieties being swamped by imported apples from the USA. Gladstone – the PM not the apple – was supportive of planting more orchards to reduce dependence upon imports. When MAN had an offer of another site for establishing an orchard, at Donnington, the Great Man’s advice was heeded.
A member with American connections, Roger Gouldstone, kindly allowed us to establish an orchard at Donnington, on what was thought to be a fertile and favourable site. Twenty-nine trees grafted onto M25 rootstock were planted. They included some of American origin, e.g. Mother, King of Tompkins County and Roxbury Russet. Over the years, regrettably, we have found that many trees have died, possibly because the drainage was damaged by heavy machinery.
MAN Membership had reached 250 by 1999, a number that has thereafter remained broadly constant. It became incorporated for the protection of members in the unlikely event of a financial difficulty and for getting grants more easily. Exchange of information about apple varieties with individuals and groups throughout the country accelerated.
In 1999 at a conference in York entitled “Orchards in the Landscape” a plan for mapping and recording old orchards was proposed by Simon Clark and Malcolm Smith of the Northern Fruit Group, with technical support from the University of Leeds. Some of our members helped in a pilot survey in 2000. Problems in funding this project resulted in a further meeting of apple groups at Leominster in 2000, which led to the establishment of the National Orchard Forum (NOF). One of its main aims was “To conserve and actively promote traditional orchards nationally”. From 2002 until 2009 NOF produced useful newsletters which were very helpful in disseminating information to the various heritage orchard groups and assisting their collaboration. In a later issue a register for local apple varieties was mooted.
The “UK Network for MALUS” had been set up in 1996 and funded by MAFF, with one of its aims to compile a National Register of Malus collections in the UK. At a meeting at Brogdale in Sept.2000 of representatives of apple groups from all parts of UK from Cornwall to Yorkshire (including MAN),
- A list of endangered varieties was drawn up
- Various confused varieties were examined and discussed, e.g. examples of Dr Harvey and Lady’s
Finger of Lancaster from different regions were compared
- The vexed question of how to treat synonyms was tackled with gusto
An apple sent from Cornwall as Herefordshire Pippin was recognized as Sam’s Crab.
More attention was given to a computerization of identification. Assessment of user requirements enabled a fairly clear structure to the identification process we humans adopt. That itself was a fascinating journey to make. Ultimately LucID from Dr Barrie Juniper was the preferred solution.
In 2000 a project was set up for making a digital archive of apple and pear literature. The ‘Herefordshire Pomona’ was proposed as a start, with further materials to follow. Publication would be via a printed edition, CD and possibly website. With grants from Herefordshire Council of £750 and Heritage Lottery Fund of £4987, an original ‘Herefordshire Pomona’ was photographed and computer equipment purchased.
In 2002, with the assistance of Herefordshire Parks and Countryside Service, MAN published an illustrated booklet to provide members with information about local varieties. Written by Ray Boddington and Mike Porter Apples of the Welsh Marches features 51 local varieties and a further 24 varieties from elsewhere which were associated with our area.
The same year “A Traditional Orchards Action Plan” was prepared as part of the Powys Local Biodiversity Action Plan (LBAP)
MAN became a registered charity in 2003 and a MAN website was set up by Richard Wheeler – www.marcherapple.net
Efforts to find land for a establishing its own orchard continued. Unfortunately discussions about opportunities near Holme Lacy College, and at Whitbourne Hall came to nought. Thanks to one of our members, Mr Price-Goodwin, MAN established a small orchard at Lower Ffordd-fawr for the investigation of unknown apples.
MAN gave assistance to the Herefordshire Wildlife Trust for establishing and nurturing an orchard at their new site at Tupsley. With help from local children, a community garden was established by Frank Hemming, a MAN member, near the Texaco petrol station on the Ledbury Road, Hereford.
MAN membership reached 334 in 2005. After ten years as chairman Ray Boddington retired: there was huge appreciation for his gentle hand at the tiller while the organisation grew to a vibrant company. He was succeeded as Chairman by Peter Austerfield.
At the ‘Big Apple’ show in Much Marcle of May, MAN launched its first CD ‘Herefordshire Pomona’ which was followed by ‘Vintage Fruit’ in 2006, covering cider and perry pears in Thomas Andrew Knight’s ‘Pomona Herefordiensis’.
2007 saw a change from the A5 Newsletter to the current A4 Apples and Pears allowing greater flexibility in the layout of articles and the inclusion of colour photographs.
In 2007 a gift from Dr Margaret Gill led to the purchase of 5.59 acres of land just to the north-east of Cwmdu which enabled MAN to create its own orchard for conservation of apple trees local and traditional to the area. This gift was incredibly generous and came at a most opportune time as our ‘finds’ were accumulating fast. The orchard was named Paramor in memory of Dr Gill’s maternal family of Kent. The views over to the Usk valley are stunningly beautiful. Planting began at Paramor in November 2008, five trees initially, the first by Dr Gill, the next four by children from Cwmdu Primary School, all to the accompaniment of a quarter peel of bells from the bellringers of St.Michael’s Church, Cwmdu. In early 2009 another 26 trees were planted to include all those described in the Welsh Marches Pomona by Mike Porter with illustrations by Margaret Gill which was published on 3rd May 2010 – the details can be found in our ‘Shop’!
Development at Paramor continued apace with financial support from Environment Wales. Following installation of access gates and fencing work, more hedges were planted, drainage for the little stream was improved, the copse was cleared of rusty farm implements, bat boxes made and erected by children from Cwmdu School. Biodiversity surveys of fungi, moths and flowering plants were carried out by members of Brecknock Wildlife Trust and BSBI, and, would you believe it, finding 20 varieties of dandelions!
In 2013 MAN gave a number of Primary schools in Powys a family tree, grafted with typically four varieties, as celebration of our 21st Anniversary. It was a delight to watch the children help with planting
Orchard Management Plans have been prepared for Tredomen and Paramor detailing the history, contents and necessary activities that will be carried out. There are now (2017) 230 trees at Tredomen and 220 at Paramor. John and Pam Savidge have recorded detailed information about the varieties, accompanied by an excellent set of photographs, in a database which has proved very useful during identification sessions. The main orchard at Paramor holds our collection of varieties originating in Wales and the Welsh Marches. The smaller orchard contains the ‘unknowns/unsure’ varieties and some duplicates acting as an ‘insurance’. There are still many varieties in Paramor and Tredomen that have not yet been identified with certainty; some may prove to be long lost varieties, others are likely to be seedlings. A Paramor Support Group has been set up to keep a weather eye on the orchard and carry out some orchard maintenance work. Early alerts of invading sheep prove invaluable!
A change of ownership of the land at Donnington encouraged us to spend more effort caring for the trees there, including removing dead trees, thinning fruit, cutting grass and pruning. Of the 73 original planting 20% have died mainly we believe, of poor drainage.
A bench was installed at Paramor by the Support Group in 2014, where weary workers are able to rest and enjoy the glorious view over the Rhiangoll and Usk Valleys. Margaret Gill produced a lovely booklet describing wildflowers growing in the sward and hedgerows (available from xxx). A kissing-gate was erected with financial assistance from Environment Wales.
We had a number of events in 2015 to mark our 21st Anniversary: Tom Froggatt led a Blossomtime walk through his orchard, Tom Adams prepared sixty trees of local varieties for members to plant, and a summer pruning course led by Nick Dunn at the Donnington orchard was followed by a BBQ.
Sadly, one of our founders, the first Chairman and first Vice-President, Ray Boddington, died in May 2015. He is remembered by many members with enormous affection and respect for his generous diplomacy and his boundless enthusiasm for finding apples, for singing and supporting the Three Choirs Festival. His father had farmed fruit in Burghill, and Ray lived in Herefordshire for most of his life. Seeing the decline of traditional orchards it was no wonder that Ray felt this needed to be reversed.
Current and future activities
Plantlife, an organization for the conservation of wild plants, has suggested that the minimum conservation standard is to have at least five examples of each variety in at least two and preferably three collections that are for preference curated. This is quite a challenge. How best for MAN to move towards this standard? We plan to start with orchard inventories from MAN and include those from member’s orchards. In essence we are creating a ‘Virtual Orchard Database’ from which we can see those varieties that are adequately preserved and those for which there are too few specimens. This is the motivation behind assembling the database, one that is to be held confidentially. It will be shared with the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species.
Recently we have taken part in meetings, which involved larger organizations such as The National Trust, National Fruit Collections, Royal Horticultural Society, People’s Trust for Endangered Species and local orchard groups, to help to establish a national body which will promote orchards. It is hoped that the Orchard Network take on the mantle of the defunct National Orchard Forum and the creation of a national inventory will be one of its objectives. Progressively, it will enable a countrywide assessment of varieties that require additional specimens to be grown.
MAN has responded to the exciting challenge of DNA analysis and took advantage of a cooperative gesture by FruitID, East Malling Research and Reading University in 2016 to have the DNA from fruit trees analysed for their simple sequence repeats (SSR) at an affordable price. We joined this campaign by submitting over 190 samples principally of apple varieties, with 170 from our orchards.
The results are eagerly awaited………..