UK Cider Tax Debate: For the Birds?

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Perhaps some of you have been following the UK cider tax debate, and recently we found another argument for protecting orchards — endangered species! Nope, not endangered apples, but some threatened birds (for example, the lesser spotted woodpecker) rely on the orchard environment.

The Guardian reported another angle on Friday, referring to work done by the UK’s National Trust, a preservation non profit organization. Here’s part of that article:

David Bullock, the head of nature conservation at the trust, said traditional cider-makers – who may be most at threat from the 10% above inflation rise on cider duty set in the budget last Wednesday – played a vital role in managing traditional orchards.

He said: “Small scale and artisan cider producers play an essential role in the conservation of this priority habitat, ensuring that traditional orchards remain economically viable and by managing them in the low intensity way that benefits the wildlife within them. We hope that the contribution that this industry makes to the conservation of this valuable habitat is not placed under further threat.”

Bullock said traditional orchards supported a diverse range of flora and fauna, including rare and threatened species such as the noble chafer beetle, the mistletoe marble moth and the lesser spotted woodpecker.

Last year the National Trust and Natural England launched a project aimed at halting the decline in traditional orchards.

The organisations claimed that 60% of England’s orchards had disappeared since the 1950s and that some areas, including Devon, had lost almost 90%.They argued that if nothing was done, what was once a focal point for communities across the country and a crucial habitat for wildlife could be wiped out.

Robin Page, chairman of the Countryside Restoration Trust, another organization focused on rural issues, said: “It is astonishing – another example of a decision being taken disconnected from both conservation and local culture. Lesser spotted woodpeckers have decreased by 75% in the last 30 years. Only about 2,700 pairs remain in the whole of Britain – they need ancient orchards and woods – and now the government puts new pressure on this wonderful habitat. It ought to be unbelievable, but unfortunately decisions like these have become typical from a parliament dominated by urban politicians.”

Vince Lea, a CRT wildlife monitoring officer, said: “Adding 10% tax to cider will threaten the already marginal income small-scale traditional orchard owners can get. The problems of binge drinking, tearaway teenagers and so on are not caused by connoisseurs of single-variety ciders produced on centuries old apple trees that constitute such an important part of English landscape and wildlife habitats. There are still a few of these gems left in the country but they are disappearing fast.”

For the full article, see http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/mar/26/national-trust-cider-duty-rise

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