Lunchtime on a tuesday and I am standing in my kitchen on my lunch break listening to a very popular chat show. A chat show, which I have had a bit of a turbulent relationship with over the years. Such turbidity being caused when discussions have focused on wildlife and the environment, of course. I shamefully admit that there have been times when my poor radio has nearly been thrown out of the window due to said chat show. Particularly when statements such as ‘it’s only a dog’ have been made, or animals have been called ‘evil’ and ‘conniving’ or ‘without feeling.’ Happily however, this time, this was not the case and there seemed to be a general sense of sadness surrounding the story. This time, the attention was focused on a single tree. A single tree, which stands alone in Southwell, Nottinghamshire. If you know your history on this tree, I am sure you might have guessed what I am referring to. That’s right. The original Bramley apple tree.
Planted over 200 years ago, this tree has been dubbed the ‘mother’ of all modern Bramley apple trees. The story of this tree began when it was sown from a single pip, by a young girl called Mary Ann Brailsford, in 1809. For a while, the story goes quiet, but then, some 47 years later, a 17 year old named Henry Merryweather came across a gardener, who was carrying the fruits of the now grown tree. Henry believed the apples produced were thought to be the best tasting apples he had ever tried and he found that the tree now belonged to a local Butcher, Matthew Bramley. Mr Bramley agreed that Henry could take cuttings from the tree and grow them elsewhere to produce its fruit, as long as they were named after him. Fast forward to 2016, and there are now more than 300 Bramley apple growers in England.
For many years Nancy Harrison, who lived in the now named ‘Bramley Tree House’, cared for the original tree since the end of the Second World War, after her fiancé died after being shot down in 1944. Sadly, Nancy died 2 years ago and since then the original Bramley tree has been, quite literally, left to rot. So much so that it is now dying from a fungal infection and is now in its last years. Honey fungus, which infects the trees water system and slowly kills it off, has over run this ancient tree and it now has little chance of surviving. Ted Cocking, a professor from Nottingham University, has studied the original tree for many years and has declared that, although it is not 100% certain, it seems likely that the tree will soon die, particularly if it experiences any additional stresses, such as a long, hot summer. Clones of the tree have previously been created by Professor Cocking to see if they would survive in other conditions and have happily survived, but they cannot replace the original.
Professor Cocking now says that the original Bramley apple tree should be cared for in its last few years of life. Over the years, millions of pounds worth of fruit have been produced because of this tree and it now has a firm place in the cultural history of the UK. Bramley apple trees make up 95% of Britains apple orchards and cover almost 5,550 acres. Although the tree has been examined by horticulturists to see if it can be saved, it has been decided that little can be done for the original Bramley apple tree.
It may seem like a small loss, it is only one tree after all and we have others! But this is the original and, as we know, nothing is better than the original. Although the legacy of the Bramley apple will not die with the original tree and Bramley apples will still be produced, a small part of our countries natural heritage may soon be lost forever.
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