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Keeping the spirit of Bristol’s Long Ashton Research Station alive

Researchers from Bristol University have been gathering apples from our Somerset orchards for use in an innovative research project that is keeping the spirit of the world-famous Long Ashton Research Station alive.

With the long-term aim of introducing the science of cider making back into the syllabus at Bristol University, so helping create a new generation of cider makers, the project is studying the taste and cider making qualities of cider apples and so continuing the tradition of 80 years of research at Long Ashton.

Using a group of apple varieties bred by the last remaining pomologists working at the Long Ashton Research Station before cider research ceased in 1985, the harvested apples are now being pressed, fermented and blended by students at the University of Bristol, with their research aiming to record the cider making qualities of each variety of apple used.

The fruit pressed for the cider all came from a group of apples developed for cider making over a 30 year period at the Long Ashton Research Station, and named after women working there, including pomologist Liz Copas who led the project.  Fondly called “The Girls”, these new varieties have been widely adopted and are being grown for cider making in our Somerset orchards.

Chris Muntz-Torres, our farm manager says, “As one of the most important cider making regions in the UK, it is brilliant to see this research being carried out at Bristol University, and that at Thatchers we’re able to contribute by providing apples from this year’s harvest for this important research.”

When the Long Ashton Research Station closed, some of the trees from the development project were planted in a small commemorative orchard at Bristol University’s Goldney Hall. However, the pedigree of these new varieties was lost. So to restore this knowledge, the research team set about firstly identifying the varieties which were originally crossed to create the new apples.  And now taking each of the 29 varieties from the Goldney Orchard, the students are  recording their cider making characteristics.

However, to complete the research project more apples were required than the orchard at Goldney could provide. So we were happy to step in and volunteer our own orchards.

The research is being funded by the Bristol Centre for Agricultural Innovation, which is supported by the Lady Emily Smyth Trust, established in the University of Bristol in 2003 and at the cutting edge of agricultural research.

Led by Kasha Smal, Goldney Garden Commercial Coordinator, with the vision and support of Head of External Estates at the University of Bristol Alan Stealey, the first steps were taken last year on the road of reintroducing the science of cider making into the syllabus at the University. It was Kasha who put together the successful funding application to the Lady Emily Smyth Trust which allowing them to purchase the apple processing equipment required to progress the project.

Kasha says: “Many months on and negotiating the challenges of Covid we are in a positive place with a successful harvest with student and expert involvement in apple processing, Now we just need to wait for the fermentation magic to happen and the cider to be blended. I hope I speak for everyone in that we are all looking forward to seeing what the results will bring.”

We grow all 29 of the varieties known as The Girls, including Lizzie, Jane, Vicky and Angela.

Chris Muntz-Torres
Thatchers Cider Farm Manager

Long Ashton Research Station was at the forefront of cider and apple research from 1903 to 1985. It was situated on land provided by the Smyth Family of Ashton Court in 1903 to aid the growing of apples and the production of cider in the West Country and incorporated into Bristol University in 1912.


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