Apple trees at core of horticultural heritage fight

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The Independent Online

Not since Sir Isaac Newton was struck on the head by an apple while sitting in one has an English orchard been the subject of such a heavyweight tussle over a principle.

Conservationists in a Somerset village have vowed to save 20 apple trees from being felled to make way for new housing by claiming it is the oldest orchard in Britain. The campaigners in Bawdrip, near Bridgwater, say records show the Grange Cottage orchard has existed since 1578 and represents a rare monument to Britain's horticultural history.

Planners will decide next week whether to allow a development of eight executive homes, which campaigners argue will not only devastate the orchard but also destroy artefacts dating back to the Roman era. Donald Rayner, of the Council for the Protection of Rural England, who is leading the preservation fight, said: "It would be nothing short of an outrage if the orchard was destroyed."

The battle is the latest twist in a saga to save the heritage of Bawdrip, which was once a Roman port and received ships until the 17th century.

Proposals to build 13 houses on the site of the orchard have been scaled back by developers to eight properties to retain a strip of the apple trees.

But opponents say a preliminary archaeological study uncovered evidence of Saxon buildings and artefacts, including combs, as well as potential Roman occupation. They also claim Tudor maps and title deeds show the orchard dates back to at least 1578.

Supporters of the housing development say a report by the Somerset Wildlife Trust concluded the apple trees have not been maintained and will last only another 15 years before they need to be replanted.