A NEW effort is being made to revive Scotland's almost extinct apple growing industry.

The UK currently imports 70% of the apples used for human consumption, from countries such as Spain and South Africa, which is estimated to cost around £230million annually.

Meanwhile, local varieties such as the Lass O’Gowrie, Galloway Pippin, Scotch Bridget and the Bloody Ploughman have long been replaced by imports on supermarket shelves.

According to the Produce Marketing Association, Britain imports more than 476,000 tonnes of apples, but only exports 14,800 tonnes of its own. Over the past two decades, the UK has become increasingly reliant on fruit imports, with a self-sufficiency rate of just 11%.

Yet apple growing has deep roots in Scottish history, with orchards grown on a big scale in abbeys and monasteries in the 12th century, through large-scale growing on estates in the 17th century, right up until the 19th century when the Scottish landscape still housed thousands of trees.

Now, a Soil Association Scotland-led Rural Innovation Support Service (RISS) group is trying to bring commercial apple growing back to Scotland.

“The intention for the group is to grow Scottish apples for Scottish consumption, like we saw back in the 1930s and 40s before the demise of the sector,” said the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society's Amanda Brown, who is facilitating the group. “We want to get Scottish apples to Scottish people. As well as being good for the industry, wouldn’t it be great to get kids eating nutrient-rich apples grown locally?”

One member of the new apple group is grower Catherine Drummond-Herdman of Megginch Castle Orchard in the Carse of Gowrie: “I want the group to be there to encourage others to grow apples on a commercial scale again in Scotland. Local, nutrient-dense food, grown sustainably in a self-sufficient manner – which will also be a means by which famers can diversify and create more income streams.

“I was born and brought up at Megginch, the orchard, with the pear and apple blossoms hanging on the ancient trees like ships in full sail, and it was always one of my favourite places," said Ms Drummond-Herdman. "Fifteen years ago, it was heavily overgrazed with only 91 old trees left. I could feel the spirits of the trees asking me to do something, so I determined to replant it! We had a small SRDP grant in 2008 to fence out the deer and rabbits and started planting with all and any old local varieties we could lay our hands on," she explained.

“We now somehow seem to have ended up with over 1400 fruit trees, including two National Collections, one for Scottish Cider Apples and one for Scottish Heritage apples and pears!”

Ms Drummond-Herdman, with the support of the RISS group, is now on a mission to encourage others to grow apples commercially in Scotland again. She explained that more research and collaboration is needed to help growers in Scotland, and advocated sharing ideas and information about different varieties.

“As well as Scotland becoming self-sufficient in growing all our eating apples, I would like to see a Grown-in-Scotland Mark, so that customers can be confident they’re eating apples which have genuinely been grown in Scotland," she continued. "It’s also important for the group to share knowledge of growing and marketing skills to raise awareness of Scottish-grown apples.”

Growers interested in getting involved in the group are encouraged to email Amanda on saos@saos.coop marked FAO Amanda Brown.