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Minister discovers how Reading is securing the future of fruit – University of Reading

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Minister discovers how Reading is securing the future of fruit

Release Date 01 August 2013

Dr Matthew Ordidge, David Heath MP and Professor Paul Hadley

The University of Reading was delighted to welcome The Minister of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs David Heath MP, to the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale Farm in Kent.

The University of Reading has been responsible for scientifically curating and maintaining the collection, one of the largest fruit collections in the world, since 2008. It is home to over 3,500 named Apple, Pear, Plum, Cherry, Bush fruit, Vine and Cob Nut cultivars and forms part of an international programme to ensure that there are enough food crops for the future despite climate and environmental change.

Owned and supported by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the collection is recognised both within the UK and internationally as a highly valuable genetic resource.

David Heath MP was taken on a tour of the collections, visiting the newly repropagated apple collection and also seeing collections of pears, bush fruit, cherries, plums and cobnuts. He discovered how University of Reading experts have been providing expertise in horticulture, cryo-preservation, molecular genetics, statistical analysis and information management.

David Heath MP said: "It was fantastic to see how one of the largest fruit collections in the world can help protect us against future threats like pests and global climate change. The team in Kent and Reading do an excellent job helping make sure we have the right varieties of fruit for generations to come."

The MP's West Country constituency of Somerton and Frome makes the subject of fruit preservation especially close to his heart. During his visit David Heath demonstrated a particular interest and knowledge of cider varieties.

Four years ago the National Trust claimed that 60% of England's orchards had disappeared since the 1950's. They were one of many organisations that argued at the time that if nothing was done, a crucial habitat for flora and fauna could be wiped out forever.

The University of Reading's Dr Matthew Ordidge is the Scientific Curator for the National Fruit Collection. He said: "We were delighted to showcase our work to David Heath MP. Our research helps policy makers and commercial growers in tackling the challenges of maintaining sustainable fruit production in the future. Indeed there is emerging evidence that spring is occurring earlier in the year which is leading to challenging conditions for almost all crops.

"Many people know the National Fruit Collection exists but perhaps do not recognise its status as a genetic resource. Brogdale houses varieties of both historic and current importance to the UK, including varieties thought to date back to the 1500's."

The MP also received an insight into the public collections database which provides the public and researchers with easy to navigate access to information such as descriptions of the accessions at Brogdale and genetic analysis collated during the curational work. Commercial growers and the breeding/research community are also benefitting enormously from the database, allowing them access to descriptive data and genetic marker information for many of the accessions.

Project partners the Farm Advisory Services Team (FAST) are responsible for the maintenance of the collection and public access is organised by Brogdale Collections.

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