Mutch Marcle ‘Big Apple’ Festival

Mutch Marcle 'Big Apple' Festival
Mutch Marcle ‘Big Apple’ Festival

Each year the tiny village of Much Marcle near Ledbury, Herefordshire, holds a weekend apple fest called ‘The Big Apple’. As well as being the home to Weston’s Cider there are many small apple growers in the area. During The Big Apple Weston’s and several of the smaller farms open their orchards to the public, where we can see the apples being pressed, quiz the experts and sample the juices and ciders. And as with all good fetes there is a plentiful supply of homemade cakes, pies and jams!

Charlotte Selvey
Charlotte Selvey

Of particular interest to us environmentalists was a walk and talk given by PhD student Charlotte Selvey at Greggs Pit. Gregs Pit is an organic orchard owned by James Marsden. James is a professional environmental consultant and assists a number of key environmental and wild life organisations. Charlotte is conducting research at Greggs Pit and several other orchards to quantify the effects of Ecosystem Services. Ecosystem services are benefits provided to agriculture by components of the ecosystem, e.g. bees and other insects provide pollination, fungi decay dead organic matter providing nutrients, earth worms burrow through the top soil providing drainage and aeration, etc. Wikepedia has a more detailed explanation outlining the four different types of service.  But as agriculture becomes more intensive and chemically reliant it is destroying the ecosystem services it depends on. Charlotte’s research  is aiming to quantify the effects of these ecosystem services so that their consequences on yield and profit are visible. It is encouraging that her PhD industry partner is PepsiCo who are looking at the effects of biodiversity along the length of the supply chain for their Copella brand of apple juice.

Moth trap
Moth trap

For the physical measurement of ecosystem services Charlotte is using some interesting methods. Hanging amongst the apple trees at Greggs Pit we saw little plastic, orange ‘houses’. Inside each house is a small vial of moth pheromone that will, depending on the pheromone, attract either male tortrix or codling moths, both of which damage apples. Unfortunately, instead of finding romance the males end up stuck on a sticky sheet of paper. At the end of the experiment the dead moths are counted and a comparison can be made between populations in biodiversity rich organic orchards and intensively managed orchards.

False caterpillar
False caterpillar

Charlotte also has scores of little plasticine green or white caterpillars stuck to the apple trees. Birds see these as food and peck at them. The nasty plasticine taste drives them away but by measuring the number of pecks Charlotte can gauge the number of predatory birds in the organic or intensively farmed orchards.

So far the research is showing that natural pest control in the organic orchards is matching the chemical control of the intensively farmed orchards! Very encouraging!

Within the orchards we passed some fallen trees and some trees were heavily laden with mistletoe and beginning to die. In a conventional farm these trees would have been removed for fear of harbouring pests and infections. But James explained that in an organic farm they encourage biodiversity, attracting predators which will also feed on bugs on the healthy trees.

I will enjoy my bottles of Much Marcle cider all the more now that I know that corporations such as PepsiCo are seeing the value in sponsoring ‘green’ science, a science that was once so belittled.

FOOTNOTE: Charlotte and her work are being featured on Countryfile on Sunday 30th October.

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Making rose hip jelly

Bowl of rosehips
Bowl of rosehips

I’ve never gathered rose hips before but judging by the thousands of plump ripe hips in the local hedgerows it looks like 2015 has been a good year for rose hips!

So inspired by the recipe for rose hip jelly at I gathered the required 2 quarts of hips. The hips seemed fully ripe, with some quite soft so I was harvesting at their peek condition.

Following the recipe, I put the hips in a pot and brought them to the boil. They should have been simmered for an hour but it was an hour and a half before I returned to the process, by which time the hips were very soft and the liquid quite thick. Using a potato masher the hips were quickly reduced to a pulp but having boiled away much of the water it was difficult to strain much juice out of the mash.

Small wine press
Small wine press

Too the rescue came a small wine press. The mashed hips were wrapped in muslin and squeezed in the press, but even using the press only gave me a cup full of liquid, leaving most of the goodness still in the mash. So I returned the mash to the pan, mashed in some more water and left the mixture to steep for a couple of hours.

The mash was then returned to the press and at least a couple more cups of juice were extracted. The juice collected this way was quite thick and gloopy with quite a distinct and pronounced flavour!

From this point on the recipe was followed as planned and the result was four and bit jars of very tasty rose hip jelly. The taste is difficult to describe – fruity, sweet, red wine, autumn berries, passion fruit? – a unique and tasty addition to my collection of sweet delights! 🙂

The jelly did not set as firm as I would have liked it to, more of a sticky paste than a jelly. I used one 24g sachet of Tate & Lyle pectin, maybe I should have added more, though I have noticed that there are some hard jelly lumps in the mix so maybe it did not dissolve properly? I sprinkled the pectin onto the juice in the pan but it was quite hard to dissolve, requiring a lot of stirring. Maybe next time I’ll mix it into a paste with a little water first.

rose_hip_jelly-300x169I shall make this recipe again at some stage as it has been relatively simple and successful. However it seemed to me that a lot of goodness still remained in the pulp that was thrown onto the compost heap. So next time I will probably take the trouble to cut open the hips and remove the seeds. Hopefully, once boiled and mashed I will be able to get more of the goodness out of the hips leaving only skins and fibre to be thrown away.

Thanks Elise for the recipe.

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The danger of ticks

Close up of tick
Close up of tick

An unfortunate hazard of a walk in the countryside is the risk of contracting a tick born disease. Whilst the risk is small if the infection is not detected and treated in the early stages the long term consequences can be severe, sometimes fatal. Also many of the commonly used removal techniques actually increase the chances of infection! It is estimated there are 2,000 to 3,000 new cases of Lyme disease in England and Wales each year and numbers are on the increase. About 15% of cases occur while people are abroad. There are precautions you can take to avoid tick bites and these may be particularly useful abroad where in most countries there is a wider range of possible infections.

There are over 20 species of ticks in Britain but not all spread disease. Lyme disease is the main risk but ticks can spread other diseases with similar symptoms and effects. It is only the ‘hard backed’ Ixodes ricinus tick that carries Lymes disease and it is estimated that the disease is carried only by between 1% and 10% of these ticks with about a 25% chance of infection from a disease carrying tick.

Symptoms of an infection normally start with a rash, though not always. The rash often forms rings around the tick bite but can have many different appearences, including multiple, flat, raised, or blistering rashes. The rash may also vary in colour from light pink to dark purple. Rashes can also be missed if they are faint, if the skin is dark or the rash is beneath hair. Within 30 days of the rash forming mild to severe flu symptoms occur – coughs, sniffles, fever, headache, nausea and/or vomiting. Jaundice and blood in the urine can occur with certain infections. If left untreated the infection spreads into other tissues including the muscoskeletal system, the heart and the nervous system with potentially serious consequences. These late symptoms may not appear until several years after the infection. If caught early the infection can be treated with antibiotics.

Whilst ticks are commonly found in countryside areas frequented by deer and sheep, ticks can also be found in urban areas such as parks and gardens. They are brought in by visiting wildlife such as foxes, squirrels, hedgehogs and birds which are potential hosts of the Lyme disease bacterium. They are found in areas of dense vegetation, such as long grass, bracken, woodland, shrubs and ground-cover plants, from where they latch on to animals or people brushing past.

Ticks are small, ranging from 0.5mm at the larval stage to 11mm for a fully engorged adult. Ticks do not have heads but a Capitulum comprising the palps (sensory tactile limbs) and mouth parts. The palps locate the best feeding spot and help to position the mouth parts. The mouth parts consist of cutting limbs and the barbed hypostome, which has a groove along it to draw up the blood. Once the barbed hypostome is inserted the saliva glands secrete a cement like substance that tightly attaches the tick to the host.

The infectious bacteria reside in the gut and saliva glands. Infection can be caused by secretion of fluids into the blood or by defecation of infected material onto the hosts skin. To minimize the chance of infection the tick must be removed at the earliest opportunity.

How to remove ticks

Below are listed common methods of removal but most of these could make matters worse;

  • Smothering  with an airtight coating, e.g. nail varnish, olive oil, etc.
  • Killing the tick with alcohol or other solvent
  • Burning with a match or cigarette
  • Freezing with a chemical such as ethylene
  • Removing with tweezers, atick tool, fingers or fine thread.
  • Cutting of with a razor blade.

Smothering (which takes a long time as ticks breath very slowly), using solvents, burning and freezing all stress the tick which is then likely to regurgitate fluids into the blood stream increasing the chance of infection.
When using tweezers or fingers, unless you can only grip the head (Capitalum) there is a danger of squeezing the stomach contents into the blood-stream. Infection may also pass into the body through cracks in the skin of your fingers.
The ideal method is to use a tick removing tool that gently prizes the tick out of the skin. Ticks will bury them selves into the surface of the skin and the body may need to be lifted out of the skin using a fine point such as the tip of a knife so the removal tool can get a grip. Avoid trying to lift the tick with a blunt object such as a fingernail as this may squeeze infected fluids out of the stomach. Avoid twisting the tick during removal, which often causes the head to separate and remain embedded in the skin.

If no tick tool is available and the tick is large enough a piece of fine thread can be wound around the head and the tick gently extracted. Some researchers have suggested removing the tick with a disposable razor. The mouth parts will be left in the skin but these will work their way out or can be removed with a pin. The important thing is that the tick has been removed at the earliest opportunity, minimizing the chance of infection (Moehrle M. & Rassner G. Department of Dermatology, University of Tübingen, Germany).

After removing the tick, use an antiseptic solution to wash the bite location, the tool and your hands. Dispose of the tick without squashing between fingers as infection may enter through cracks in the skin.

How to avoid ticks

Keep skin covered when in “brushy” areas so wear trousers rather than shorts or a skirt. Button up collars and cuffs, wear a hat, tuck trousers into socks, choose clothes with elastic or drawstrings at the waist and wrist. Wear boots, not sandals. Clothing made from smooth or waxed material is hard for ticks to climb, and light-coloured fabrics make them easier to see. DEET based repellents are effective against ticks and some natural repellents (e.g. lemon eucalyptus oil) are also effective and safe to use on young children. To avoid ticks on overhanging vegetation, you can use a stick to tap the vegetation ahead of you, knocking off any waiting ticks.

Brush off clothing and check pets before returning home. Inspect yourself and children for ticks, as soon as possible, paying most attention to armpits, navel, groin and hairline (especially in children).

The insecticide Permethrin can be applied to clothing and equipment such as tents, sleeping bags or rucksacks. Do not apply this chemical directly to the skin and allow clothing to dry thoroughly before wearing (Permethrin is highly toxic to cats. Make sure they do not come into contact with treated clothing).

For further information see;

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What is our Right to Roam?

This question came up over a few pints of beer just before setting off on our Lake District holiday. Here is the answer.


In 2000 the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CROW) came into law, giving the general public the ‘Right to Roam’ or ‘Open Access’ in certain areas of the English and Welsh countryside. Open access land (sometimes just called access land) includes mountains, moors, heaths and down-lands that are privately owned. It also includes common land registered with the local council. Much of the coastal margin that is part of the England Coast Path (ECP) is also open access land.<!–more–>

On open access land the public do not have to stick to foot paths or bridleways. However there are conditions which limit activities on the land and exceptions that exclude certain types of land or areas from this act.

The conditions are that you can use access land for;

  • walking
  • running
  • watching wildlife
  • sight-seeing
  • climbing
  • and any activities allowed by law on footpaths, bridleways and
  • other public rights of way

However, the following activities are usually excluded;

  • horse-riding
  • cycling
  • fishing
  • camping
  • taking animals other than dogs on to the land
  • driving a vehicle (unless it is an \’invalid carriage\’).
  • water sports
  • play organised games
  • hang or paraglide
  • use metal detectors
  • commercial atctivities
  • remove, damage or destroy natural or man-made items
  • light or cause a risk of fire
  • leave gates open
  • leave litter
  • intentionally disturb livestock, wildlife or their habitats
  • post notices
  • commit any criminal offence

There is a general rule that dog owners must keep their dogs on a short lead of no more than 2 metres between 1 March and 31 July  (except in the coastal margin) and at all times in the vicinity of livestock. In some circumstances landowners may be entitled to exclude dogs completely from small lambing fields and grouse moors.

But you can use access land for horse-riding and cycling if:

  • the landowner allows it
  • there are existing rights or local traditions, eg it’s an event that’s
  • taken place for many years
  • public bridleways or byways cross the land – horse riders and cyclists
  • can ride along these

Exceptions to the open access rule include;

  • buildings and their curtilage, e.g. courtyards.
  • parks and gardens
  • land within 20 metres of a dwelling or building containing livestock
  • Industrial land such as quarries and railways
  • land with structures such as electricity substations, wind turbines, telephone masts (though access is permitted around them).
  • golf and race courses
  • cultivated land
  • aerodromes
  • land ploughed for the growing of crops or trees in the past year
  • temporary livestock pens
  • racehorse training gallops – at certain times
  • land controlled by the MOD.
  • schools and their playing fields
  • regulated caravan or camping sites
  • burial grounds
  • land which is being developed such that it will meet one of the above exceptions.

Excepted land is still out of bounds even if it appears on CROW Act maps.

Landowners cannot charge for access to open access land but they can charge for goods and services, e.g. deck chair hire, parking, etc.

You may be able to access private land if the landowner has agreed to let people use it, eg for walking, cycling or horse riding. This is sometimes known as ‘permissive access’. Some land with permissive access is closed at certain times of the year to protect sensitive sites, eg when rare birds are nesting.

Landowners may voluntarily create access land in areas that fall outside of the CROW Act.

Angling interests successfully lobbied for the exclusion of rivers in England and Wales from the CROW Act, leaving other river users such as swimmers and canoeists with access restricted to less than 2% of navigable water. The British Canoe Union is running the Rivers Access Campaign, to highlight the level of restrictions the public face in gaining access to inland waterways in England and Wales.

Click this link to see online maps showing open access land in England and Wales. Ordinance Survey maps now mark areas of open access land.


In Scotland the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 upheld the ancient tradition of the right to universal access. The act establishes a right to be on land for recreational, educational and certain other purposes and a right to cross land. This land includes mountains, moorland, woods and forests, grassland, margins
of fields in which crops are growing, paths and tracks, rivers and lochs, the coast and most parks and open spaces.

The activities allowed on Scottish land were universal access applies are similar to those listed above for England and Wales but also include;

  • recreational purposes such as pastimes, family and social activities
  • horse riding
  • cycling
  • wild camping
  • taking part in events
  • educational purposes which are concerned with natural and cultural heritage
  • some commercial purposes
  • crossing over land or water, e.g. a golf course can be crossed providing a game is not interfered with.
  • The act also allows access on inland waters for canoeing, rowing, sailing and swimming.

The conditions a user must comply by are very similar to those listed above for England and Wales. The universal access rights exist only if the user;

  • takes responsibility for his or her own actions
  • respect people’s privacy and peace of mind
  • enable land managers and others to work safely and effectively
  • care for the environment
  • keeps his or her dog under proper control
  • takes extra care if organising a group, an event or running a business

The full code can be downloaded from in different formats.

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