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A genetics project in the UK is seeking out forgotten apple types in order to safeguard fruit in response to the changing climate.
Environment Science

A genetics project in the UK is seeking out forgotten apple types in order to safeguard fruit in response to the changing climate.

Gardeners are utilizing genetic sequencing to locate lost types of apples through studying trees in old orchards. They are hopeful that these varieties may possess characteristics that will aid in the survival of the fruit in the face of a changing climate.

This spring, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) will be conducting a sampling of heritage apple trees at their garden in Rosemoor. Their goal is to discover apple varieties that were popular hundreds of years ago.

We anticipate that certain types of plants that have managed to thrive despite challenges with pests and climate change will possess genetic characteristics that can help maintain the UK’s commercial orchards.

The University of Bristol and Sandford Orchards, a producer of craft cider, will obtain the genetic makeup of apples from uncommon and significant orchards throughout England. The focus will be on “survivor varieties” that have not been documented before. Certain trees may be the sole remaining ones of their kind, making this project crucial for preserving their distinct genetic code.

According to Keith Edwards, a retired teacher from the University of Bristol’s biological sciences school, the amount of samples received by mail for our project was initially surprising due to the high public interest. This highlights the significance of apples in the UK’s food industry. The preservation and recognition of rare or forgotten apple varieties is crucial not only for biodiversity, but also for the resilience of the UK apple industry as it faces challenges from climate change.

The researchers are investigating various tree species that were interbred in ancient times. Each tree grown from a seed has its own distinctive genetic pattern, but some trees they are studying may have been grafted and possess the same pattern. If trees from separate orchards have identical genetic patterns and are not currently documented in a collection, it suggests that they were once considered favorable for either consuming the fruit or producing cider.

Horticulturalists state that it is crucial to protect the orchards in the UK, not only for economic purposes, but also because they serve as a significant habitat for pollinators and other animals. Unfortunately, these orchards are declining, as some have been removed for new construction, while farmers have also chosen to uproot them due to the difficulties of growing apples commercially. These challenges include competing with cheap imported produce and the impact of climate change.

Since the year 1900, approximately 80% of the smaller orchards in the UK have disappeared. Thus, gardens like RHS Rosemoor play a crucial role in preserving uncommon local apple varieties. Adjacent to the orchard at Rosemoor is a meadow of wildflowers that serves as a habitat for pollinators, ultimately aiding in the production of apples.

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Barney Butterfield, the creator and proprietor of Sandford Orchards, explained that the goal of this project is to discover exceptional apples that can be used for fermentation, cooking, or eating. By uncovering “survivor” apples that have not been widely grown or preserved, they are able to sample the flavors and varieties of the past and appreciate the vast range of native apples in this country.

Source: theguardian.com