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Scotland's native apples saved by school pupils and communities

Now the bloody ploughman variety of apple is beginning to thrive again after a drive to create community orchards across the country has helped previously endangered types of fruit to flourish.

More than 800 schools and community orchards have been planted in the last three years and this has seen the revival of heritage varieties of apples such as the James Grieve, Cambusnethan Pippin and the Lass O’Gowrie.

Also making a comeback is the Clydeside which dates back to 13th century orchards at Glasgow Cathedral Over the last few years, community groups and schools from all over Scotland have banded together to set up their own orchards.

Pupils are playing a key part in the revival with 500 school orchards being planted across the country.

Over the past century, experts estimate, as much as 90 per cent of the UK’s orchards have been grubbed up for development or agricultural use.

About 40 varieties of apple used to be grown only in Scotland, just a tiny number of the more than two thousand varieties across the UK.

But go to a supermarket, or even most greengrocers, now and you would be hard-pressed to find more than half a dozen different kinds of apple on sale. However thanks to people such as John Hancox, of the Commonwealth Orchard, communities across Scotland are now sharing the experience and are helping to revive the traditional varieties.

He said: “We’re working with schools and community groups to plant new orchards. The idea is that people like having fruit growing near where they live. If you look at medieval maps of cities like Stirling, Perth, or Glasgow the centres of these cities used to have orchards growing in them.

“The Merchant City in Glasgow is built on the site of an old pear orchard. So there’s a very long history of people growing food in urban areas. It’s a shame that most of the apples you get are imported, and there’s a very limited range. The other thing that really annoys me at this time of year is that there are loads of apple trees in Scotland, dripping with fruit that doesn’t get picked.”

Until recently it was common for country houses to have their own orchards and varieties.

Cultivated over centuries on the fertile soils of the Lowlands, Scotland’s apples were once at the centre of a thriving industry before their existence was largely forgotten.

The drive to reinvigorate planting and consumption of native apple varieties, long lost under a tide of cheaper imports, has come in the last five years and decades-old orchards are being revived across the UK.

More than 70 per cent of apples on sale in British shops, a market worth £320 million annually, are imported, especially big-selling modern varieties such as Granny Smith’s and Golden Delicious.

Nine varieties of pear were recently found at Threave Castle and one, the Longueville, is being reintroduced back to France after centuries. Mr Hancox added: “We have been planting orchards right across the country including Ardnamurchan which is not a traditional apple area. We use so few Scottish apples these days yet we have varieties as good as anywhere in the world.”

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