Storm could close Naish's Cider Farm, UK's oldest cider maker
By Western Daily Press | Thursday, October 31, 2013, 05:00
The oldest cider maker in Britain may have to stop production after 82 years in the business because of damage caused in Sunday night's storm.
Frank Naish with and Paul Chant at work in the orchard, which has been devastated PICTURES: Steve Roberts and Graham Trott
Naish's Cider Farm at West Pennard, near Glastonbury, lost 14 trees in the storm which wreaked havoc in the early hours of Monday morning. The storm hit Piltown Farm at around 3.45am, and left a scene of devastation in its wake.
Frank Naish, 89, has been making cider at Piltown Farm since he was seven, first with his father, William, then with his late brother Harold. Mr Naish has the oldest cider press in the UK. It is believed to date from around 1840, and at 89 Mr Naish is the oldest cider maker in the country.
Paul Chant, who has been helping Mr Naish at the cider farm for the past few years, and making his own cider, said: "It was like a mini tornado.
"We had 14 trees down, some with their heads off and six were ripped right out."
The damage has called the future of cider production at the farm into question. Mr Chant posted a bleak message on Facebook in the wake of the storm: "After this latest storm, with apple trees no longer with us, countless damaged trees with limbs ripped off, the cost of clearing up, replacing fences and replacement of new trees and the time involved with care growing/grafting and planting/setting out, we are now drawn to the conclusion that producing cider at a loss is no longer a viable concern.
"I really don't think that there is much future in producing artisan cider unless you can at least cover costs and break even. This leaves me with the thought that maybe it's time to start looking at other alternative uses for the land and to leave the cider making to the large industries with their concentrates and chemicals. This may well be the start of the end for cider here at Piltown Farm, Somerset."
However, Mr Chant has decided he is not ready to throw in the towel yet and plans to do his best to keep the cider flowing and safeguard the orchards and the environment.
He added another post to his Facebook page which said: "I suppose it's not just about the financial viability but more of future environmental viability towards its stability."
He is deeply concerned about the loss of wildlife and pollinators as well as trees. Mr Chant said: "We have planted 230 new trees in the last four years and saved endangered varieties with the help of the Glastonbury Conservation Society. I want to plant an orchard with wildflowers to encourage the bees and other pollinators.
"Our orchards are in such decline that they are going to be wiped out in 20 years. An apple tree lives as long as a human, they are all old now and dying off by the dozen. Modern bush orchards don't last more than 25 years."
Mr Chant and Mr Naish produce 7,000 litres of cider a year each. Mr Chant said: "Our cider takes four or five months to be ready, depending on the weather conditions. For the last three to four years the weather has been so adverse – it's not natural. Our environment has changed.
"The big companies have destroyed the cider industry with their chemicals and cheap alcohol. As a company you can't exist anymore – it's a hobby – but we will try and keep going."
Elsewhere, a mother-of-three is calling for trees which "tower" over her Yeovil home to be chopped down in case they topple on to her children's bedrooms in another storm.
Tina Huish, 40, of King Arthur Drive, says she has been begging South Somerset District Council to fell two large trees next to her home since 2011.
She also claims the trees, which sit on council land, block out TV signals and are on a bank with soil which is wearing away.
Mrs Huish said trees of similar height and build in an adjacent park fell during the storm on Monday morning, re-igniting fears her two sons' attic bedroom would be hit if the ones near her house dropped.
She said: "My 19-year-old son Liam heard the trees fall. He said it was like a crack of thunder. I've told the council before these trees were not safe. This storm has proved it.
"I'm petrified that these could now fall on our house.
"The safety of my children is at risk. The trees might be healthy but I'm not going to wait around for them to fall."
Mrs Huish also has a daughter, ten, and another son, seven.
In 2011 the council had carried out several tree inspections in the area.
At the time a spokesman said the trees would only be trimmed on safety grounds – to prevent damage to property or danger to the public – or for the benefit of the tree's health.
A council spokesman was unavailable to comment, but in a previous statement they stressed how hard their teams worked during the storm to clear debris and ensure fallen trees in the area were safe.
Yeovil Country Park rangers said more than 20 trees fell in the park during the storm.
One area that escaped relatively unscathed was the Somerset Levels, where flood prevention work may have helped.
Farmers in and around the Langport area were bracing themselves for floods after the Met Office issued wind and rain warnings for the storm that hit the South West in the early hours of Monday.
Many fields in the area ended up underwater for months last November.
But Anthony Gibson, chairman of the Somerset Water Management Partnership, said work to improve flood defences has made a difference.
He said the Environment Agency has lowered the Aller Moor Spillway, which is around half a mile west of Langport.
He said this has allowed water to spill out of the River Parrett and escape to the sea via the King's Sedgemoor Drain. This bypasses the "pinch-point" at Burrowbridge where water slows as the rivers Parrett and Tone meet.
Mr Gibson said: "The work has relieved some of the strain on the River Parrett.
"The whole farming community was braced for the worst. Given that we've had quite a bit of rain these last couple of weeks it wouldn't have been at all surprising if the rivers had spilled out."