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11th March 2024

Sandford Orchards Wins Funding To Lead Apple Tree Research

Award-winning cider maker, Sandford Orchards, has partnered with scientists from Bristol University to identify and preserve ancient apple varieties across the UK. Following on from a compelling small scale trial, Sandford Orchards has just tendered for and won a competitive bid to receive a grant from DEFRA to expand this research and they are now leading the way nationally, including heading up a project at RHS Rosemoor.

Barny Butterfield, Chief Cidermaker at Sandford Orchards, comments: “Apples are at the heart of everything that we do. Our cider mill is the oldest working mill in the UK and some of our orchards are centuries old. We take our stewardship of these precious natural wonders very seriously and we are thrilled to be unlocking some of the secrets of these and other orchards that have long been forgotten.This ground breaking research aims to fingerprint thousands of apple trees in order to locate and propagate unique and threatened varieties.”

Sandford Orchards will work closely with Keith Edwards, Professor of Crop Genetics at Bristol University to identify and map the apple varieties. By punching a small hole in leaves from individual trees, his team is able to collect samples for DNA testing, while geographically tagging the particular tree using the What3Words geo-positioning system. His team will spend the spring and summer taking DNA samples from thousands of apple trees and aim to share the results of the project by the autumn.

The research is not limited to Sandford Orchards’ own apple trees, as the team hopes to gain a broad national picture. RHS Rosemoor has already signed up to the project and Barny and Professor Edwards will be sampling their Devon Collection of apples as part of the research too.

Lawrence Weston, RHS Rosemoor Professional Work Placement Student from RHS Rosemoor comments: “Orchards are ecologically essential to Britain as oases for wildlife and a fantastic nectar source for pollinators. Traditional orchards have severely declined since 1900 and in the last three years alone the UK has lost 1000 acres of orchard, which not only has a significant impact on wildlife but affects the diversity of the UK’s apples. RHS Rosemoor’s Devon Collection orchard is dedicated to conserving rare regional apple cultivars and this research will help shape our plans for the future.”

Barny continues: “By mapping apple trees we will be able to preserve them for generations to come. This information will help us plan for diversity and climate-resilience in our orchards and secure many more centuries of cider enjoyment. You only need one apple tree to propagate a whole new orchard so once we have identified key varieties that should be increased, we can start planning for the future. The outcome can only be positive for the environment and for cider-lovers.”

Images available here.

For further information on Sandford Orchards please visit, follow Sandford Orchards on X, Facebook and Instagram.

-Editor’s Notes-

Sandford Orchards takes a low impact approach to producing cider:

  • Their orchards act as carbon sinks, promote soil health and support biodiversity
  • Their apples are all grown in a 20 mile radius of the cider works
  • Their by-products are bio-converted locally into natural green gas and CO2, which is used to carbonate their ciders
  • They use locally coppiced regenerating woodlands for fuel for heating water and have installed solar panels which produce 25% of their required electricity
  • They are working towards having all their company vehicles charged by renewable power
  • They use natural lighting, rainwater harvested from their roofs and insulation to reduce their energy requirements
  • Their cider is produced using filtration and cold sterilisation and without the need for boiling ingredients

Contact: Kath Hope,

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