The countryside campaign for the restoration of England’s lost hedgerows has found support from the UK’s leading cider maker, Bulmers, based in rural Herefordshire.

Bulmers, the world’s largest cider maker, now owned by Heineken, is supporting this campaign as part of its sustainability programme which flies under the banner of Brewing a Better Future.

The initiative is a major strategic pillar for the global drinks giant and reflects its commitment to sustainable agriculture and local sourcing.

Bulmers uses almost a third of all apples grown in the UK, and requires more than 100,000 tonnes of bittersweet apples every year.

This huge quantity of fruit comes from 10,000 acres of orchards in and around Herefordshire. Three-quarters of this acreage is owned by local farmers, while Bulmers owns 2,500 acres of its own orchards.

Today, the company has worked hard to encourage a return of hedgerows where natural predators and pollinators can flourish.

“We have been able to tie sustainability into crop management,” says Fen Tyler, Heineken’s head of corporate responsibility.

“This year we have discussed with growers how to raise the standard of all orchards to outstanding through the agreement of the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group initiatives such as reduced hedgerow trimming and leaving sizeable uncut grass margins. This improves the natural diversity of birds, insects and predators.”

Through partnering with the National Association of Cider Makers and linking into the company’s charity, The Bulmer Foundation, there have been further trials into sustainable improvements in orchard management.

These include trials for alternative, natural sprays to control predators; planting of different types of flowering plants in grass strips to attract pollinating and predatory insects and more precise use of nitrogen fertilisers.

The cider industry is one of the few that continues to invest in research and development in this way. Bulmers’ orcharding team provides expertise to all contract growers ensuring that there is timely information about growing conditions and pest management each season.

This helps to ensure that spraying is kept to a minimum. “By reducing the amount of anti-fungal and insect spraying in orchards, we save the farmers money and reduce the impact on the wider environment,” adds Tyler.

Every two years, the Golden Apple awards in Herefordshire are the opportunity for Bulmers to highlight and reward environmental best practice.

In more recent years the scoring has been weighted in favour of

sustainable factors such as increased bird nesting boxes and allowing greater density of hedgerow trees.

Long-term change in orchards takes planning, as trees can still be cropping well after 70 years. Over the past ten years, industry experts have been developing new apple varieties that crop earlier, resulting in a longer season.

This is of great benefit to both the grower and the cider maker, allowing resources to be spread over a longer period, resulting in a more manageable harvest.

The company is also planning how to ensure its vital crops grow in the face of England’s changing weather patterns. Small changes to winter temperatures can have a significant impact on winter dormancy and new varieties must be able to cope with the changes that we are likely to see in the next 50 years.

Set up in 1887, Bulmers has a history of long-term collaboration with local farmers, many of whom have supplied the company since the 1920s. The contract for any given orchard is typically 25-30 years, which directly benefits precious agricultural jobs, providing long-term stability for farmers.

“From a farming point of view, apples are a difficult investment, as it takes seven years from planting before the trees reach full harvest maturity,” says Tyler. But the 30-year contracts help the farmers, most of whom have mixed farms.

“The contract relates to the acreage of land and not the tonnage of apples. This is important as it promotes improved crop management so that increased yield results in better income levels per acre.

“The contracts offer long-term security which can offset the fluctuations of other crops and animal prices.”

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