he 8th Dartmoor Society Debate
What Future for Dartmoor’s Orchards?
Lustleigh Village Hall, Saturday 1st October 2005
© The Dartmoor Society, 2005
Editor: Mike Hedges
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The 8th Dartmoor Society debate was held on 1st October 2005, appropriately in Lustleigh Village Hall, next to one of very few community orchards in the Dartmoor area. During the day, products were on sale from the local Dartmoor cider orchards of Brimblecombe’s (Dunsford), Gray’s (Tedburn St Mary), Little Weeke Cyder Co (Chagford) and Luscombe (Buckfastleigh).
Dr Tom Greeves (Chairman, The Dartmoor Society) welcomed delegates to the event and handed over to the morning session chairman, Society committee member Geoffrey Wrayford, who introduced our first speaker, Dan Keech, the Sustainable Food Chains Project Officer of SUSTAIN and co-author of The Common Ground Book of Orchards. (SUSTAIN advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people, society, the environment and animals.)
Dan’s talk was entitled ‘The Importance of Orchards – Ecology, Culture, Community and Product’. His theme was that orchards are precious because they provide a diverse habitat, reinforce local distinctiveness such as culture and recipes and provide a means of knitting a community together. However, imagination is needed to make them economically viable and rebuild local food chains.
Dan gave an overview of orchards in the UK. At one time, an orchard was a common scene in places like Somerset and Kent. A number remain in Somerset, with its strong cider-making tradition, but in Kent there are few left, those that remain being no longer commercially viable. In Gloucestershire, pear tree orchards were once popular, being used to make perry, the pear equivalent of cider. In some Northamptonshire orchards snowdrops are grown commercially on the understorey (the land beneath the trees). Orchards also existed for production of cherries, damsons, hazel nuts and so on, as well as apples. The attractions of apples are the vast range of varieties, some now hard to come by, and the names. One benefit of keeping old orchards in production is that the knowledge of these old varieties is retained, along with expertise in the different methods of pruning, grafting and tree culture.
Dan reported a positive move that may help to stem the disappearance of orchards. The Common Ground organisation has succeeded in convincing English Nature of the ecological importance of orchards. English Nature has now carried out surveys of some orchards and has confirmed the wide range of species to be found – a biodiversity that is broadly part-way between that of a garden and a woodland. This should help to remedy the present situation where orchards appear to fall through all the ecological ‘safety nets’.
He cited an example of how orchards fit into the landscape at Neuthen in Germany, where typically hilltops are crowned with conifers, with vines on the lower slopes and orchards on the plain below. He explained that, in Germany, a statutory land designation can be applied to sites like orchards to fix their land value at a low level and thereby remove the incentive for landowners to sell them for development. In addition, German inheritance law requires land to be divided equally between heirs, thus fragmenting ownership over time and making the sale of viable-sized development land more difficult because of the number of owners that needs to be ‘bought off’. Again in Germany, which consumes more apple juice than any other EU country, there is a scheme to bring orchard products back into the economy and thereby help biodiversity. The scheme provides enhanced market prices for orchard products and was conceived after research found a direct correlation between the loss of orchards and the decline in numbers of tree-dwelling birds, such as nuthatches and little owls.
In other parts of Europe, the culture and growing practices vary widely in orchards. In Spain, the understorey is often cultivated for hay. In the Basque region of Spain, orchards have revived somewhat, following the end of the Franco régime, during which beer was the ‘approved’ popular drink, to the detriment of cider orchards. In the UK, orchards are now a rarer habitat than unimproved meadowland; the risks that will come with improved protection are that scientists may think they know better than the widely experienced orchard growers. Orchards may also become ‘ghetto-ised’ within certain protected sites, whereas they should ideally be a part of every community. Orchards in UK are unlikely to be commercially viable from fruit sales; added value is needed from activities such as cider or apple juice production.
After Dan’s talk, our next speaker was Dr Tom Greeves, a cultural environmentalist and Chairman of The Dartmoor Society. Tom’s talk was entitled ‘Aspects of the History of Dartmoor Cider Orchards’.
Tom said that, unlike the South Hams or the Tamar Valley, Dartmoor was not usually thought of as an apple-growing area, but not long ago orchards were extensive throughout the Dartmoor border region. In 1960 nearly 800 orchards were recorded within the boundary of the national park. There are some fifty parishes within this area, which means that forty-five years ago there was an average of some sixteen orchards in every Dartmoor parish. They could be found everywhere, up to a height of about 800 ft above sea level. They contributed beauty, ecological diversity, and a vital cultural and social heritage.
The orchards were predominantly of cider apples, cider being the staple drink of the farm labourer for centuries. In the late 18th century a labourer could expect to be given a quart (2 pints) of cider daily in winter as well as his pay. This would increase during haymaking and, when mowing meadows, 3-4 quarts of cider were provided per acre.
But, by 1997, 321 of the orchards noted 37 years previously, had been totally destroyed, and only 46 were still being ‘managed’ in some way. Tom wondered how this could have happened, especially within a landscape and culture that most people assumed (incorrectly in his opinion) was protected by its status as a national park. In the years following 1945 the Ministry of Agriculture offered grants to farmers to destroy orchards and replace them with something considered more productive. Nothing was done within the national park to prevent this process taking place. The national park survey of 1997 found that, of the orchard sites destroyed since 1960, 67% had become fields, 16% gardens, 7% farm buildings, 5% were developed (presumably with housing) and 5% had been converted to woodland. Orchards fell through every net that might have saved them. They were not even recognized as trees which could have been protected by Tree Preservation Orders. As recently as 2003, the National Park Authority allowed an old orchard at Dean Prior to be destroyed by development, despite a petition and numerous objections by local people and The Dartmoor Society. A member of the DNP Committee was heard to say that the orchard was ‘of no importance’.
Tom recommended reading the wonderful chapter, ‘Orchard’, by Peter Beacham, President of the Dartmoor Society, accompanied by the late James Ravilious’s exquisite photographs in Down the Deep Lanes (Devon Books, 2000). Together they capture all the essential elements of Devon orchards, reminding us of the interdependence that orchards have with cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry, bees, mistletoe and the useful applewood itself, preferred for the cogs of machinery in watermills. Jacqueline Sarsby, in her splendid book Sweetstone (Green Books, 2004), documents the decline of orchards in Devon and the South Hams parish of Blackawton. County-wide we lost some 95% of our orchards between about 1890 and 1990. Closer to home, and about true Dartmoor cider-making, Tom recommended the chapter in Chris Chapman’s Wild Goose and Riddon (2000), titled ‘On Pig Killing and Cider Making’.
It was perhaps a miracle that any orchards had survived, but it was hard to completely eradicate something that has meant so much for generations. Tavistock Abbey produced cider on its Plymstock estate in the 14th and 15th centuries, shipping ‘pipes’ (120 gallons) of cider up the Tamar to Morwellham and then to the abbey itself for consumption. Large quantities of cider were also put on board ships. In the 1790s Buckland Abbey then had one of the oldest known orchards in the country, dating back to c. 1600.
In 1757, a survey by Dean Milles provides significant information about apple varieties and cider production in some Dartmoor parishes. At Ashburton both rough and sweet cider was produced. In Bickleigh, on south-west Dartmoor, there were 60-70 acres of orchards with favoured apples being the Buckland White, Shaugh Red and Baccamore. Many acres were under orchards in Buckfastleigh, and extensive orchards also existed at Chagford, Shaugh, Tavistock, Walkhampton and Whitchurch.
Tom quoted a wonderful and detailed description of the fine Baccamore apple by Hugh Stafford writing in 1753, which revealed the rigour with which cider apples were assessed, and the extent to which, in general, we had lost an appreciation of what Devon and Dartmoor apples should mean to us.
By contrast, ‘Hewbramble or Bramble Cider’ made from the Mediate apple was apparently admired, but does not sound very palatable as its name is ‘alluding to its roughness, which causes a sensation as if a bramble had been thrust down the throat and suddenly snatch’d back again’ !
Charles Vancouver, writing in 1808, confirmed the importance of the South Hams for cider orchards. He singled out Dean Prior and Buckfastleigh as having orchards which ‘all appeared to be remarkably well loaded’. In this same area before the Second World War, Garth Grose recalled seeing as many as twenty sacks of apples around a tree at cider making time. He remembered about 50 acres of orchards, which by 2004 had been reduced to about ½ an acre. At Caddaford Farm, Buckfastleigh, apple varieties grown were Moliewinsor, Keswick, Newton Wonder, Qualender, Brambley Seedling, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Russet, Worcester Pearmain, Granny Smith and Blenheim Orange, and two cider apples called Deep Red and Deep Yellow.
Of particular interest is how the significance of orchards extends to the high moorland of Dartmoor, which supplied the granite for the cider-making equipment. The preliminary crushing of apples, in the 18th and 19th centuries and perhaps earlier, was often done in circular granite troughs, known as pound-stones, by means of a circular mill stone (or ‘edge runner’) set vertically and powered by a horse. The subsequent pressing of apples to extract the cider itself often used a massive granite slab, often more or less circular apart from an extended ‘snout’, and with a groove running just inside its edge. The granite was cut on the moor, and numerous examples survive of pound-stones, edge runners and presses, for example at Merrivale and Sourton Tors. A fine example of a press from Longstone, Sheepstor can now be seen in the car park of the Plume of Feathers, Princetown. A very rare survival of apple-crushing machinery is at Batworthy Mill near Chagford, where the apple was crushed by horse-powered rollers. The most usual form of cider press by the 18th century was a huge oak structure, with a screw to apply the pressure on the mass of crushed apples and straw known as a ‘cheese’. A very fine 18th century example survives in the great tithe barn at Buckland Abbey on western Dartmoor.
A glance at the Ordnance Survey maps of the early twentieth century shows that places such as Buckfastleigh, Christow, Hennock, and Dunsford all included substantial areas of orchards. Even further out on the moor orchards flourished, as at Michelcombe in Holne parish, or at Thorn at nearly 800 ft above sea level, south-west of Chagford.
The substantial Statts Orchard survives at Lower Factory just outside Chagford. For many years this was owned and managed by Maurice Hill and in 1978 his son Tony, who is a Dartmoor Society Committee member, made a sketch plan of the 127 trees in the orchard and recorded all the names of the apple (and two plum) varieties – Arlington Mill, Fair Maid of Devon, Slap me Girdle, Elaine Prince Albert, Bramley, Sweet Alford, Kingston Black, Hollow Core, Tom Putt, Cat’s Head, Bitter Sweet, Lord Derby, plus Victoria Plum and Early Rivers Plum.
Of even greater historical interest, was the discovery a few years ago, by James Bellchambers, of a plan of an orchard, together with a list of the apple varieties it contained, at Druid House, Ashburton, dating to c. 1860. The varieties included Fool’s Apple, the Snow Apple and Custard Apple, none of which was known as a living specimen to the national apple collection at Brogdale in Kent. Having seen off the threat of a housing development, and with the help of Orchard Link and DEFRA, the present owner has now restored this amazing orchard, and last year sold some 300 bottles of her apple juice to Bovey Castle near Moretonhampstead.
There are other really positive stories. Lustleigh parish still has its own orchard which is managed for the benefit of the community. Early this year an old orchard at Buckfastleigh was cleared of 25 years of undergrowth by volunteers with support from Dartmoor National Park Authority’s Action for Wildlife project. Since 1999 an orchard in Buckland Monachorum has been planted and established by St Andrews School.
Fortunately, cider is still commercially produced within the Dartmoor region at Luscombe Farm near Buckfastleigh; Brimblecombe’s near Dunsford; and Gray’s near Tedburn St Mary, all of which source apples from local orchards, and a new venture has just started at Little Weeke near Chagford.
With increasing interest in local food, locally sourced, now seems a better time than any other since the Second World War to stimulate a renaissance, by individuals, communities or commercial growers, in the restoration, management, and consumption of Dartmoor’s remarkably rich cider orchard heritage.
Following these two presentations, there was a session of discussion and questions.
Dr Ken Whitaker (Spreyton) asked about the extent of hard pruning of mature apple trees. Dan Keech said that this depended on what the owner required, but if dead boughs were prevalent, some trees could be removed altogether; dead boughs could be removed from others and left to rot on the ground, providing a habitat for invertebrates such as the now uncommon stag beetle. For fruit production, removal of dead branches would help to increase the light reaching live boughs.
Karen Eberhardt-Shelton (Drewsteignton) was concerned that the monoculture of some orchards was unattractive. Dan Keech agreed, but said that in some cases this was the only way the orchard could be viable.
Roger Paul (Throwleigh) asked if there were any plans to record orchards in Devon or on Dartmoor. Tom Greeves said that the most active body in this area was Orchard Link, based in the South Hams. Celia Steven (Buckland Monachorum) said that some work was being done in the Tamar Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to catalogue old orchards. Jacquie Sarsby (Orchard Link) said that there was also a body called Orchard Line in North Devon that was working on the history of local orchards.
Dr Simon Dudbridge (Lustleigh) raised the question of cider being a minority drink and said that perhaps there should be local promotion of those varieties that survive in wetter climates without spraying. Dan Keech said that the Cox apple was worth £120 million to the economy, but agreed that the local climate was not always conducive to healthy apples. He said that the Luscombe was a good variety and he knew a pub in Islington, London, where cider from this apple sold at £3 per pint! The notion that cider was drunk by the gallon by people working in fields was clearly outdated, although he recalled some old men in pubs in Somerset drinking something with the appearance of orange juice that was actually a particularly disgusting cider! We now needed to get wiser about juices and brands of cider to address the ‘minority drink’ perception as far as possible.
Helen Rowett (Yelverton) said that she had once worked on the elimination of canker in a Dartmoor orchard and concluded that it was not possible to do so in the local climate. The problems were compounded in the case of the Cox apple, which only fruited in alternate years.
Mary Bartlett (Bovey Tracey) said that she had been born next to an orchard in Bovey Tracey and recalled growers of the time selecting root stock that had regenerated from waste apple pulp. She said that the quality of grafting on to root stock was very important, but appeared to be of a poor standard these days. Dan Keech said that crab apple root stock was now being used by one practitioner to teach grafting skills. Brian Lamb (Bere Ferrers) mentioned the Thornhay Nursery and Endsleigh Garden Centre as two local places where very good apple trees could be obtained and where grafting courses were run.
Jacquie Sarsby said that Orchard Link’s primary function is to collect apples and sell them to people who wanted them for cider, juice or pies. They also teach cider-making at local autumn fairs, and also show people how to graft and prune trees. Orchard growing is encouraged – and generally there was plenty of land attached to older houses that could not be farmed or otherwise developed and was available for new orchards.
John Dray (Lustleigh) said that he had known the Lustleigh orchard for 70 years, starting with scrumping illegally there as a small boy! In its heyday, tree trunks were lime-washed over the lowest 7 feet or else sprayed with tar, in each case to deter pests. There had been a cider press at Kelly Farm in the village, to which local farmers would bring their apples and help each other to press. The Cleave Hotel had had its own orchard, the cider from which was sold in the bar. He was disappointed with the DNPA’s record on orchards, particularly when it had allowed development of an old orchard at Dean Prior. However, he was proud of the work that he and other members of Lustleigh Parish Council had done to preserve their orchard. People should urge their parish councils to buy or develop orchards.
Ian Mortimer (Dartmoor National Park Authority member) said that he represented local parishes and thought that current policies, including those of the DNPA itself, were not strong enough to protect gardens and orchards. His view was that orchards were important for their cider production and ecology, but that they had not been given a high enough profile compared to other issues such as social housing. He said that orchards were currently classified as ‘brown field’ sites and therefore had a higher chance of being developed under current government guidelines. They were under serious threat from the housing lobby and he urged strong resistance. The real culprit was the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, whose staff had laughed at Graham Wall (DNPA Chief Planner) when he had said that orchards were one of nature’s highways. Ralph Burwood (Lustleigh) said that plans to convert part of the orchard in Lustleigh to a car park for the village hall had been thwarted thanks to the power of local people. Dan Keech said that Exmoor National Park Authority had woven orchards into their planning policy – and perhaps Somerset had also been more proactive with this than Devon. 38 designated wildlife sites in Somerset comprised orchards or remnants of orchards and in fact English Nature were now saying that orchards should be included in the national Biodiversity Action Plan (they were already in some county BAPs, eg Kent) – perhaps DNPA could support English Nature in this emerging trend.
Ron Barter (Brimblecombe’s Cider) said that cider had been used centuries ago to baptise children and had once been looked upon with reverence. He endorsed Tom Greeves’ suggestion that a church font in one of his slides looked very like a barrel of cider! Regarding the earlier mention of cider as a minority drink, he said that consumption in UK had recently risen from 3% to 5% of alcoholic drink consumed.
Dr Keith Strelling (Yelverton, Dartmoor Society committee) suggested that growing apples was now less profitable because of the structure of subsidy for orchards under the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Ron Barter mentioned that by 2012 there would be no single payment subsidy, as the CAP would have been passed out entirely. Dan Keech said that supermarkets now seemed to be more prepared to take premium organic orchard products. In Herefordshire the fruit excess was 40,000 tons per annum, as Bulmers of Hereford now bought its fruit from abroad. There was a need to think about food production beyond subsidy and also to accept seasonal availability of some products. Brian Lamb mentioned that some 8 or 9 new orchards had been planted in the Tamar valley, and at Liskeard he had come across a grower who had 120 local outlets for his produce.
Karen Eberhardt-Shelton recalled the grubbing out of Gravenstein apple orchards at Sebastopol, California, where she was born. Similarly to the UK, there had been no objections, perhaps the more so because much of the pruning had been carried out by Mexican workers and not local people.
After lunch, with rain showers holding off, we went outside into the adjacent Lustleigh orchard, where Barry Sessions told us about its history and upkeep. Like many local orchards, it had been developed on land that contained too many large rocks to be of other agricultural use. The orchard had been bequeathed to the village by Mrs Bennett on condition that the May Day celebrations were held there. Its area is 4 acres, although once it had been larger.
Barry said that he and his sons had cleared large areas of brambles and then planted some new cider apple trees. These had had to be located to allow the passage of a small tractor to collect apples. During the course of work, pieces of early Anglo-Saxon pottery had been found on the site. Barry said that, as trees do not grow successfully from apple pips, cuttings had to be taken from other trees. Eating apples contain too much sugar for successful cider-making and types with high tannin content are better. Bush-type trees are more productive. Apple trees can live for up to 90 years, while pear trees can survive for some 300 years (although Barry said the pears are not very good by that time!).
One problem in the orchard is the risk of encroachment – there is now a children’s play area and a small piece of land has been taken for a village hall extension. The grass had been kept down by labour-intensive strimming; then sheep had grazed the site, but parents of children using the play park had complained about their messy shoes! Heavy growths of mistletoe on treetops sometimes cause boughs to snap in high winds.
Four to five tons of apples are obtained each year and the money raised from their sale is used for the maintenance of the orchard.
We then heard from three speakers about local Dartmoor orchard initiatives. Celia Steven was introduced by Tom Greeves, chairman of the afternoon session. Celia is the great grand-daughter of Henry Merryweather, the discoverer of the Bramley apple; this had been grown from a pip by Mary Anne Brailsford between 1809 and 1815, in a cottage in Southwell, Notts, that was bought in 1846 by Matthew Bramley. In 1857 Henry Merryweather, then aged 17 and who came from an apple growing family, had by chance sampled the apple and made its qualities widely known.
Celia explained how, after being widowed, she had moved to Buckland Monachorum and, with her family interest in apples and looking for a way to occupy her time, she had contacted Common Ground for some ideas. They said that a grant was available for orchard development, so she contacted the local St Andrew’s School and persuaded a farmer to sell some land for the school to grow apple trees, with Celia herself as the adviser and prime mover. The grant itself was insufficient and had to be supplemented from funds raised by Celia from a letter box walk in the King’s Tor area of Dartmoor. Eventually trees were bought and planted after the schoolchildren had cleared the land. Later they were shown how to graft trees. Despite the initial setback of trees being eaten by sheep, the orchard is now thriving!
The school has remained involved. Children have an annual apple pie competition, which helps to teach them to cook. Lessons are held in the orchard and children learn about the biodiversity, history and heritage of orchards. Initially the prevalent ‘health and safety culture’ had prevented children from actually picking apples, but a risk assessment had now been prepared and they may be able to do so next year.
Next Ron Barter of Brimblecombe’s Cider at Dunsford (formerly known as Farrants Farm) described his cider-making process. He said that cider had been made at the farm for some 400 years and showed a slide of what is believed to be the base of the original stone mill. Cider was once sent to Exmouth and then on to London and to Naval establishments. Ron said he had kept the process traditional – apple pulp is still pressed through a ‘cheese’ of barley straw. First apples are collected from local providers and left in the loft for some 2 weeks to sweeten. Next they are ‘scratted’ into a pulp, or pomace. The ‘cheese’, which is 5ft to 5ft 6 inches square, is then built up from 3-inch layers of straw with some of the pomace spread on to each layer. It is quite a skill to build the necessary rectangular shape for the ‘cheese’, which is pressed using a hand-operated, twin-screw press. It takes 4 people around 4 hours to complete the ‘scratting’ and pressing process.
The juice is collected in barrels (previously sterilised with sulphur candles) and allowed to ferment naturally. After 5 weeks it is racked off until ready to use.
Richard Johnson of the Little Weeke Cyder Co at Chagford explained that he and his family were ‘hobbyist’ cider makers. Both he and his wife had other jobs during the week – cider making was their weekend activity! The operation was based at a smallholding owned by his parents-in-law, Mr & Mrs Jim Coyne. They aimed to produce high-quality champagne-style cider, combining the best of traditional practice with the best of modern technology.
Richard said that he was a microbiologist by profession and in the past had worked for Bulmers Cider. He had begun making cider at home some five years ago and took the chance to do this on a larger scale in one of the barns at Little Weeke, which his parents-in-law had purchased a year ago. With much of the work being done by the family themselves, one barn was converted to a cider mill. Richard bought surplus equipment from Bulmers, along with a hydraulic press.
Apples were obtained from local orchards, with providers receiving cider in return. The operation is currently non-commercial; apple pressing is made into a day event for friends and family, with a large lunch thrown in! Fermentation takes place in large plastic drums, to keep it clean enough for the champagne cider, and champagne yeast is used in preference to reliance on natural yeast. Maturation takes place over two years, changing the initially thin, bitter liquid to a fine cider. Bottling and crowning are carried out manually. Eventually, as the alcohol content rises, the yeast dies, leaving a biscuity sediment. The bottles are stored in a special rack obtained from Rheims, in the champagne region of France. Each bottle is given a daily quarter-turn to settle all the sediment in the neck. When the contents look clear, bottles are frozen in cold brine and the cork and frozen sediment are removed, or ‘disgorged’, followed by muzzling of the bottles with a fresh cork, leaving a clear product in the bottle.
Richard said they were just starting the second year of production. He was looking at the merits of different apple varieties – often a difficult job as new owners of orchards did not know the type of apple in their orchard. He said he might also produce apple juice. He was due to meet HM Customs & Excise shortly to discuss the legal aspects of commercial production.
The ‘Dartmoor effects’ on cider production were the varieties of apple and the variability of climate and crop. Apples and labour were readily donated and pubs seemed keen to take the product.
Rupert Lane (Head of Trees & Woodland, DNPA) talked about the grants that are now available from the Dartmoor National Park Authority for orchards. Grants could not be paid to farmers participating in Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) schemes, as this would involve a double subsidy. Rupert mentioned the example of Hapstead, where an old orchard (with just one original tree remaining) has now been replanted, with trees protected from grazing animals. Old trees need to have their crowns thinned or lopped during the dormant season and even old trees could be made to fruit with proper pruning.
The spark for regeneration of an orchard is usually an enthusiastic individual or parish council. Many old trees are covered in ivy or brambles and the British Trust of Conservation Volunteers is one body that can help with clearance. Cattle or sheep can then graze the understorey and often a herb layer of good biodiversity is created in the first season following grazing.
Claire Stride, an Adviser with DEFRA’s Rural Development Service, described their grant system for orchards that would be available from November 2005. Claire said that there is an Entry Level Scheme and a Higher Level Scheme for environmental stewardship grants. The Higher Level Scheme provides grants for orchards; typically £250 per hectare is payable for a 10-year agreement to manage an orchard in a traditional manner. Orchard restoration attracts a grant of £250/hectare and a grant of £190/hectare is available for the creation of a traditional orchard. In addition a capital grant of £17/tree is payable.
Claire reported that, as well as DEFRA, some local authorities operate a grant system for orchards, including Somerset County Council, Dartmoor National Park Authority and South Hams District Council. Again however, grants from more than one source are not permitted.
There followed a further session for discussion and questions.
Dawn Hatton asked if Ron Barter’s cider making process involved the pressing of ‘creatures’ as well! He replied that they do not notice many if any pests on the apples.
Wendy Johnson (Little Weeke Cyder Co, Chagford) asked how Bramley apple has established a virtual monopoly of UK varieties. Celia Steven said that its make-up and particular qualities had helped it stand the test of time.
Roger Paul asked if the acidity of the Dartmoor soil influenced the types of apple grown. Ron Barter replied that it was often said that the belt of clay soil that stretches from Devon and Somerset to Hereford produces better cider apples, although the soils of Kent and Suffolk were also successful in this regard.
Helen Rowett asked what happened to the left-over straw and apple pulp. Ron Barter said that it was fed to cattle, which like it and can in fact become drunk on it! He knew of a case where a farmer lost some cattle after a herd broke into a cider orchard, ate the apples and suffered distended stomachs from internal fermentation.
Richard Johnson was asked if he had to give away his champagne cider. He said that this was so at present, and he had to obtain HM Customs & Excise approval, along with that of the local Environmental Health department, before he could sell this product.
Ralph Burwood asked if cider could turn to vinegar. Ron Barter confirmed that this could indeed happen, if precautions of cleanliness and air exclusion were not rigorously observed. There is no risk during fermentation, but once this has finished, the barrel must be sealed promptly. However, cider vinegar can be made and sold commercially.
John Askew wondered if there was a problem with the use of the term ‘champagne’ in association with cider. Richard Johnson said that the term could not be used commercially, being a brand name linked exclusively with wine from a particular part of France. Terms such as ‘méthode champagnoise’ may be acceptable.
Dr Ken Whitaker asked if alternatives to straw could be used for the ‘cheese’. Ron Barter replied that layers were always needed, but cloth could be used to enclose the apple pulp (pomace) in place of straw.
Helen Rowett asked where the straw was obtained and Ron Barter said that barley straw, generally organic, was obtained from local farmers.
Jacquie Sarsby asked whether a grant was now available from DEFRA for recreating an old orchard, and Claire Stride confirmed that this was the case. Dawn Hatton asked if small fields could attract such a grant and Claire Stride replied that a small field supplement was available. Linda Osborne (Chagford) asked about the timing of grant applications. Claire Stride said that a grant application could be made at any time and the scheme starts in November 2005. Grant aid lasts for three years.
Dr Tom Greeves (Chairman, The Dartmoor Society) then drew proceedings to close, thanking delegates, speakers and Society committee members for their contributions to the day, and also expressing appreciation to Steve and Jan Brown of Lustleigh for providing an excellent lunch and refreshments.