Julian Temperley’s Orchards

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From The Telegraph’s Rose Prince comes an article on Steve’s colleague (and friend) Julian Temperley.  Excerpts below, or check out the full article, which includes a nod to Temperley’s fashion-designer daughter, Alice.

While waiting for the second coming, we make do with celebrity chefs as saviours. Not that they are doing a bad job. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall wants to save fish from extinction and Jamie Oliver wants to protect our children from bad school dinners. Now Raymond Blanc has announced his intention to plant 20 acres of fruit trees at his hotel, the Manoir aux Quat Saisons, reviving dozens of old forgotten varieties and with it the great British orchard.

The call to restore orchards is not a new one, however, and any evangelist farmer needs to be realistic about the feasibility. Apple and other tree-fruit farming has been in free fall since the 1970s when the opening of the European markets initiated Le Crunch: the flood into the UK of cheaper imported apples like Golden Delicious, which with its low price, unblemished looks and long shelf life tempted supermarket shoppers away from characterful English types. After these came the super-apples from the US and China, such as Pink Lady and Fuji, to spoil us with a juicy, perpetual autumn. China now has 4.6 million acres of orchards, producing 20 million tonnes each year, compared with our 150,000 tonnes. The “grubbing” of traditional, mature British orchards has seen over 50 per cent of them lost and the land used to grow subsidy-rich arable crops.

Along with the destruction of the trees went a habitat for many species of wildlife, including essential pollinating insects. But, says one long-term campaigner, orchards cannot be brought back just as a sideline in farming.

Julian Temperley, a cider- and apple-brandy producer and orchardist, is known for having saved large tracts of Somerset orchards from destruction since the 1970s. He believes the viability of orchards is connected to the pleasure they provide. “Orchards are a very important amenity for people,” he says. “We allow people to come and walk in ours, just for enjoyment, but it is important also to understand that orchards can really only have a future in Britain if they are properly productive.”

…His orchards keep 10 people in full-time employment. “The price for eating apples has been stagnant for a decade, but there has been a cider boom in this region and it has made orchards sustainable and worthwhile,” he says. The Somerset cider orchards are nevertheless much reduced from their heyday in the late 19th century, when there were 24,000 acres. There are now just under 3,000 acres of orchards, 95 per cent of them planted with cider apples. Temperley remembers a time when, as a child, he saw an orchard grubbed. “It is a real shame to see an orchard fall,” he says. “The one I knew was cut down and replanted with subsidised barley.”

The cider boom that has secured the future of the orchards in Somerset has been given a further boost with a new law decreeing that British cider must contain a minimum of 35 per cent fruit. Commercial brands have often contained as little as eight per cent. “This means there is increased demand for apples, and it is good news for the apple farmers,” says Temperley.

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