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Archive for April, 2007

Robert White gives an overview of the Friends of Brogdale Special General Meeting

On 28 April at a Special Meeting of the Friends of Brogdale Horticultural Trust Friends were asked to support or reject an amendment to their Constitution that added the words ‘whilst pursued at Brogdale’.

The petitioners were in effect asking Friends to reaffirm what they and the Trust had previously voted for when the Constitution was established which was that Brogdale was the permanent location for the Collections.

Prior to the meeting the Trust had written to Friends saying ‘We ask you to show faith in us by voting against the motion’ thereby also turning the vote into one of confidence in the Trust.

Not only was the amendment carried by a majority but by a two-thirds majority of the Friends.

Background to Meeting
This meeting was a response to the Trust’s possible future plans to move the National Fruit Collections from their home at Brogdale, near Faversham, Kent to another site when bidding for the new Defra contract.

The amendment changes Clause 2 of the constitution to ‘these are the aims of the Friends of Brogdale whilst pursued at Brogdale’. Its intention was to reconfirm the Friends long term commitment to the National Fruit Collections at Brogdale. Friends travelled from far and wide, from North Yorkshire, Somerset and Belgium to attend the meeting, which perhaps gave some indication of the high level of concern about the news that the Trust might move the Collections from Brogdale.

Speakers in Favour of the Motion
The proposer, Robert White, and seconder, Dr. Joan Morgan, both the founder of the Friends and the Friends Honorary President, set out the reasons for voting in favour of the motion.

It was explained that the Collections had been at Brogdale for the past 50 years. The site was originally chosen by the Ministry of Agriculture, now Defra, for its suitability for growing a wide range of fruits. Nothing has changed in this respect. The Collections are thriving and Defra, who own the Collections, found no deficiencies with the site when they assessed it again in 1990 and 1999/2000.

The Trust was formed in 1990 to provide a secure home for the Collections at Brogdale when the Ministry closed its horticultural experimentation centre there. That same year, Friends became Friends of the Trust, because they wished to be Friends of the Collections and of Brogdale. The amendment thus reflected the long relationship between the Collections and Brogdale and the Friend’s main interests.

The Trust, however, appeared to be distancing itself from Brogdale. It has already left Brogdale and its Defra bid seems likely to propose moving the Collections from Brogdale.

Yet the position at Brogdale in many ways appears to be promising. The Brogdale landlord is making a £1 million investment in refurbishing the site, which should make it more attractive to visitors. The landlord has publicly stated that he is committed to providing a permanent home for the Collections at Brogdale. The land on which the Collections grow is on a long lease to Defra until 2016 and the landlord has offered to extend this up to 2050. So the site seems secure.

Friends have been the Trust’s most generous and loyal supporters. Despite this the Trust has been extremely reluctant to give Friends even the broadest outline of its plans. Is the Trust putting their own interests above those of the Collections and Friends in order to ensure the Trust’s continuity and why are the Trust not being more open and transparent?

Even before the new Defra contract was announced it seems that around 2005, maybe earlier, the Trust had been actively considering plans to move the Collections and had been investigating possible alternative sites. This seems to be confirmed by a former trustee who recently said:

I resigned as a trustee over two years ago on one simple issue, and that was the Trust’s idea that the National Collection should be moved from Brogdale to another location. As a supporter of the work at Brogdale and its aims and objectives, this idea was totally objectionable. Secondly, to move the Collection seemed a disgraceful waste of money.

Where is the incontrovertible case for moving the Collections from Brogdale?
Friends were asked to vote in favour of the motion.

Speakers Against the Motion
The primary speakers against the motion were the Chairman of Brogdale Horticultural Trust and another trustee. John Brady, the Trust’s Chairman, began by apologising for not communicating sufficiently with the Friends.

The Trust’s approach to the Defra contract bid really came down to two options. To stay at Brogale or to move from Brogdale. The ‘pros’ for staying at Brogdale were that they knew the site and the land was good. The ‘cons’ were that they had lost all their commercial activities which were important for raising revenues, the Collections were widely dispersed on the site and they now had no say in how the site developed. The ‘pros’ for moving from Brogdale were that they could get as good land and facilities elsewhere, and they could design the new collection to maximise the visitor experience. The ‘cons’ were that the move would be disruptive and costly.

The Trust was working hard on all the options and was in discussions with interested parties, but their main goal was the well being of the Collections and their public good. The Chairman of the Trust was glad of the opportunity to speak to the Friends but saddened by the motion and asked the Friends to vote against the motion.

Other Contributions and Observations
It was asserted that the Brogdale landlord had made it plain that the Trust were not wanted on site. This was challenged.

Firstly the Brogdale landlord was a strong supporter of the National Fruit Collections at Brogdale.

When the Trust had could no longer meet its mortgage commitments on the Brogdale site the landlord had bought the site and leased it back to the Trust on favourable terms. The landlord had for the past five years been trying to begin renovations at Brogdale, but progress had been blocked by the Trust. As Friends could see work on the £1 million investment on the Brogdale site had begun immediately the Trust vacated the site.

As late as January 2007 the Trust has been unable to provide the landlord with their future requirements. To address this uncertainty and to provide continuity for visitors to Brogale the landlord had set up a ‘Not-for-Profit’ Company and put in place an alternative restaurant/tea room facility for visitors to take effect from April.

Other speakers noted the general lack of information, but nevertheless thought that the problems did not seem insurmountable in achieving the outcome that many wished – that the Collections remain at Brogdale. They hoped that the Trust with the support of the Friends could work towards that objective.

One speaker thought that one should keep one’s options open to maintain flexibility. Putting the emphasis on the importance of the Brogdale site was inappropriate.

The Vote
The voting, as noted above, was in favour of the motion.

In effect this means that the Friends only support the aims of the Trust while it maintains the Collections at Brogdale.

It remains to be seen what the Trust’s response will be to the amendment. To be effective a majority of Trustees must endorse the amendment to the Constitution. This seems unlikely given the letter sent out by the Trust asking Friends to vote against the motion and the fact that Trustees at the meeting spoke against the motion.

The 2006 Accounts of the Brogdale Horticultural Trust and its Subsidiary
Following the Special General Meeting the Annual General Meeting of the Friends took place and the financial position of the Trust and its subsidiary were noted.

For the year ended 28 February 2006 the Trust’s subsidiary, Brogdale Orchards Limited, had a deficit of shareholder funds of £(216,581) an increase in the deficit over 2005 of £(26,627).

For the year ended 28 February 2006 the Trust’s had a deficit of £(21,725) that left it with total reserves of £30,088. Included in the Trust’s net assets of £30,088 was £109,185 owed by Brogdale Orchards.

As the Chairman of the Trust conceded the Trust face a considerable financial challenge in deciding its future plans and strategy.

Robert White

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Any advice on dealing with ants? They are a major pest for fruit trees – because they encourage and protect aphids, and unlike slugs and wasps are very difficult to eradicate.

Richard Borrie

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I am trying to find an English apple with the same taste and texture as a Braeburn. I live in the East Riding of Yorkshire and I am thinking of planting a couple of the trees if there are any suggestions.

Mark Crisp

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Helen Walton has sent us the following comment.

I saw on your blog something about the national fruit collection being moved. Two or three years ago I visited the fruit collection when it was at Faversham when all the blossom was out and I think it was one of the prettiest pictures I have ever seen, and it seems a dreadful shame if the trees are now being dug up and moved somewhere else.
Wouldn’t that upset them? I don’t really understand it because in one place you say it will have to move and in another the site is OK. I think it should stay where it is. Are you getting up a petition or anything?

Helen Walton

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Good to hear that you enjoyed your visit to the National Fruit Collections at Brogdale. They are exceptionally beautiful at this time of year; the Pear Collection is in blossom at the moment and looking wonderful.

Moving the Collections would not involve physically moving the existing trees. The Collections would be repropagated, that is scion wood (a small piece) would be grafted onto a rootstock to form a new tree. These new trees would be planted at the new site. This is a standard practice, although not without risk. There is always the chance that a variety may be lost in the process and the possibility that the Collections may be rationalised, that is slimmed down, or that the Collections may be split up with one collection of fruit going to one site and another fruit collection planted elsewhere. One of the great merits of the Collections at Brogdale is that there is such a wide range of fruits all growing on one site and that there is so much diversity, for example over 2,000 varieties of apple. This is a huge bonus for everyone from the visitor and amateur gardener to the fruit scientist.

It will, of course, take some time – at least five years – to repropagate, plant and then check the new trees to ensure that there have been no errors during the propagation and planting. During this time the new Collection would not offer much to look at or produce much fruit and it would be probably ten years or more before it might resemble the present Collection. In the meantime the existing Collection would remain at Brogdale, but presumably not enjoy the status of a National Collection, nor receive government funding for its maintenance as it does now. To many people it all seems an expensive and pointless exercise.

I entirely agree with you – the Collections should stay where they are – at Brogdale. There is no good reason to consider moving them. They have been there for 50 years and can remain at Brogdale. The site is ideal for growing a wide range of fruits and secure – the present owner has stated publicaly that he is committed to providing a permanent home for the Collections. (see previous posting – ‘Fruit Collections to Visit’)

Your suggestion of a petition is a good idea – we will investigate starting a poll to see how many visitors to Fruit Forum are in favour of the Collections remaining at Brogdale and how many find moving the Collections to another site acceptable.

Joan Morgan

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Mormon Apricots

mormon-apricot-fruitjpeg1.jpg

In response to the article on Mormon Apricots by Clive Simms on the main web-site we have received news from Marc Camargo that these are available from his nursery in Oregon. No use unfortunately for us in the UK but for gardeners in the US contact fruit-tree.com nursery – http://www.fruit-tree.com

Joan Morgan

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We have received this comment from Brian Self of Maidstone

I was sorry that the prepared edition of Fruit News could not be published and sent to Friends of Brogdale. Perhaps your excellent new ‘Fruit Forum’ will carry a similar range of material and be a substitute?

Brian Self

I hope so Brian; we would like as many people as possible to contribute articles and join in the discussions on the ‘Fruit Forum’.

Joan Morgan

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Georgina Connors has contacted us with the following inquiry:

 

‘Is there a list of orchards etc in the Midlands or south of England suitable to take growing children round? I have been told that the present site of the national fruit collection has been bought by a builder and it is being wound up, so I suppose it is not much good going there.’

Georgina Connors

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I do not know of any list of orchards, but there are two excellent fruit collections in southern England.

The Royal Horticultural Society Gardens at Wisley, near Woking, Surrey has large orchards with collections of apples (over 600 varieties) pears and plums. It also has a ‘Model Fruit Garden’ of trained trees and demonstrations of ways of growing fruit in a small space, including a collection of some 150 varieties of gooseberries grown as cordons. Wisley is open all year round and children are welcome.

The National Fruit Collections at Brogdale, near Faversham in Kent is the largest collection of fruit varieties on one site in the world. In its extensive orchards and fruit plantations there are over 2,000 varieties of apples, around 500 pears, about 300 plums, nearly 300 cherries and also collections of currants, gooseberries, hazel nuts, vines, medlars and quinces. Brogdale is open to the public throughout the year; children are welcome.

What Georgina has been told about the National Fruit Collections is not wholly accurate, although there is some uncertainty about their future.

Brogdale has been owned for the past seven years by a local developer Hillreed Homes. Tony Hillier, its director, has publicly stated that he is fully committed to providing a permanent secure home for the National Fruit Collections at Brogdale and at the beginning of February announced that he is investing £1million in refurbishing Brogdale; work has commenced. This is not interfering with visitor access and business is as usual at Brogdale.

The National Fruit Collections are in the ownership of Defra, which funds maintenance of the Collections through contracts to the Brogdale Horticultural Trust for its husbandry and to Imperial College at Wye for its scientific curatorship. This has been the situation since 1990 and will continue until April 2008. Then the maintenance will be carried out by whoever secures the new contract with Defra, currently under tender with the result expected later in the year. This new tender has opened the door to the possibility of moving the Collections; it does not call for them to be moved but indicates that this will be considered. One imagines that both current holders of the Defra contract will bid for the new one. It is concerning however, that the Brogdale Horticultural Trust has indicated that if it wins the contract it will consider moving the Collections from Brogdale. In the BBC Radio 4 Farming Today on 23 March the Trust’s Chief Executive in answer to the question ‘But you do think that you will be on the move.’ replied ‘ Well if we win the contract.’

For what it is worth my own opinion is that to move the Collections would be tragic. The Collections are perfectly fine where they are; there is no good reason to move them. They have been on this site for 50 years. Brogdale is an ideal situation, with deep fertile soils suitable for growing a wide range of fruits, close to the sea which gives some amelioration from spring frosts and in the middle of our oldest fruit growing area. Brogdale is known throughout the world as the home of the National Fruit Collections with an international reputation and decades of good will. I would much prefer to see the National Fruit Collections remain at Brogdale.

That said, the Collections are open to the public as usual and wonderful at the moment with the cherries and plums in blossom. The pears are coming into flower and the apples will follow shortly. You will never see anything like it anywhere else.

Joan Morgan

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