Saving the Borrowdale Wild Apple

A Community Effort to Revive a Rare and Precious Native Tree

Author: Pete Barron, Rosthwaite

The Borrowdale Wild Apple is a rare and precious native tree that has been overlooked and underappreciated for far too long. This tree, often referred to as the crab apple, has a special place in the history and ecology of the Borrowdale valley. But, as I discovered while mapping and measuring these ancient trees, the future of the Borrowdale wild apple is uncertain.

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In 2019, a study by Ric Worrell et al revealed that some of the finest wild apple woods, with the highest densities of apple trees, were found in Thorneythwaite, near Seatoller in the Lake District, an area known for its high rainfall. The study also found that the wild apples in the upper valley were pure, without having hybridized with wild-grown domestic apples or imported Chinese or Siberian crab apples, as seen in other areas. This is important because it can be difficult to determine the level of hybridization by looking at a particular tree.

However, despite their genetic purity, the wild apple trees in Borrowdale are not regenerating naturally. This is due to browsing pressure and the fact that these trees are often found on open, grazed wood pasture, where they appear to prefer a more open, light situation. In my own searches, I have found only one naturally regenerated apple tree, and that was a sucker off an old tree. The remaining stock of wild apple trees in Borrowdale is very old, and although they are long-lived and can re-grow after storm damage, new trees are needed to secure the future.

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To secure a future for the wild apple trees in Borrowdale, a local group called Greenup Borrowdale has formed to support the natural environment of the valley. We are working with the National Trust, the major landowner in the area, to grow apples from local seed and plant, protect, and kick-start the next generation of wild apples in Borrowdale.

If you're interested in helping with this project, there are things you can do to secure the future of the wild apple:

  1. Do not plant non-local apple trees.
  2. Compost your apple cores.
  3. Grow local wild apples from seed.

If you would like more information on how and when to do these things, or if you have any other ideas for helping nature, please get in touch. Together, we can make a positive difference in our rapidly changing world and help to reverse the decline of the natural world.