Cider orchards vs climate change: The battle to protect the pint

Could climate change threaten the traditional English pint of cider?

As average temperatures heat up and weather becomes more unpredictable, there are concerns that places such as Herefordshire, where a huge amount of the country’s cider production is based, will be hit hard as cider apple and pear tree varieties struggle to survive.

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James Marsden, who runs Greggs Pit Cider & Perry in Much Marcle, is already having to adapt to deal with the impact of the changing climate.

“We're seeing less predictable weather over the winter, so we're not getting the long periods of cold which we need for the trees to have proper dormant period,” he said.

“We're also seeing variation in the timing of the blossom - it can come early, and that's a problem because it can then get frost bit when the temperature drops again. And the pollinators often aren't around if it comes early either, which means we don't get as much fruit.

“Meanwhile, higher summer temperatures are changing the natural balance in the fruit. And the French winemakers are dealing with exactly the same things. What you're getting is lower acidity, higher fruit sugar, which is changing the flavour profile of what we can produce.”

Apple and pear trees are blossoming earlier, which leaves them vulnerable to late frosts Credit: PA

To try to counteract these challenges, he’s found ways of mixing fruit from younger trees - which tend to ripen more slowly - with that from older trees, to achieve the same balance.

He is also dealing with orchards situated at higher altitudes, where the temperatures are slightly cooler.

But slowly, he said, certain varieties will find it harder and harder to survive in southern and central parts of the UK, and may only be able to grow further north.

This would have a huge negative impact on the county’s economy, with around half of the UK’s cider coming from Herefordshire - and much of the rest coming from areas further south such as Devon and Somerset.

“Think of the cultural history,” James said.

“All of my predecessors out there pruning cuts - their harvesting is embedded in this place. That cultural history, as well as livelihoods, are impacted.”

Around half of the UK's cider is produced in Herefordshire Credit: PA

He has now joined the board of the county’s Climate and Nature Partnership, encouraging people across Herefordshire to get involved in cutting emissions and boosting nature.

Cllr Ellie Chowns heads up the Partnership, and said any negative impact to the county’s cider orchards would be a big loss.

“It really kind of brings [climate change] home when it's so personal and so close to the identity of what the place means,” she added.

“We're really facing major changes if we don't tackle climate change.

“I am really, really hopeful that we are going to turn the corner. The only way that we'll do it, though, is if we all say ‘right, we've got to face this issue, we've got to recognise how big it is’.

“And that's the way that we can make sure that we can continue to grow cider in Herefordshire.”