WITH 180 apple varieties grown across its picturesque grounds, Erddig’s ambition to rescue and preserve the humble fruit for future generations is well-known in the world of Welsh cider making.

Now new research has revealed the Wrexham stately home has helped play a crucial role in the discovery of 73 previously unrecorded varieties of apples and pears, believed to be unique to Wales.

A two-year £495,600 National Lottery grant enabled a partnership between the University of South Wales (USW) and the Welsh Perry & Cider Society to look at the heritage of orchards and cider making in Wales.

One of the main aims of the project - called The Heritage of Orchards and Cider Making in Wales - is to record the DNA traits of Welsh Heritage cider and perry fruit to produce a detailed online catalogue of what exists in the country.

But while listing the discoveries the research unveiled something never found before, after about 200 trees were DNA tested during the project, with some going on to be propagated at 13 community orchards across Wales, including those at Erddig.

“The DNA investigations involve us collecting fresh leaves in the spring, and then sending them to be tested and compared to the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale in Kent,” said Jayne Hunt, heritage project manager at the Crumlin-based Welsh Perry & Cider Society.

“We have a museum orchard just outside Llanarth, near Abergavenny, from where some of the leaves were collected, while others are found across the country.

“The DNA results have confirmed that 12 cider apples and nine perry pears within the museum orchard are Welsh, and a further 22 unique varieties have been identified from elsewhere in Wales that were not registered with Brogdale’s database before, and we believe to be found only in Wales.

“It’s incredibly exciting for us. The project has unearthed far more unique varieties than we ever expected - fruit that is probably found only in Wales, and which has never been recorded.”

“When we launched this project none of us could have foreseen the huge success of the DNA testing results that would come from it,” added society chairwoman Sally Perks. “We hoped to find some unique varieties, but we didn’t envisage that there would be so many varieties of cider apple and perry pear that have only been found in Wales.”

Set up in 2016 to look at the heritage of orchards and cider-making in Wales, the project has now boosted known varieties of apple from about 30 to more than 100.

The society worked with 13 community groups to plant new - and regenerate old - orchards using the rediscovered varieties and a total of 926 trees have been planted at orchards in Anglesey, Conwy, Gwynedd, Monmouthshire, Pembrokeshire, Powys and Brymbo Heritage Orchard in Wrexham.

Many of the new varieties were propagated and will now act as a genetic resource to ensure their preservation as a valuable part of Welsh natural heritage for future generations with the society creating a number of ‘Museum Orchards’, including one at Erddig.

“I have a lot of interest in garden history and when I came to Erddig I discovered large amounts of fruit growing in the garden and that intrigued me,” said Glyn Smith, head gardener at Erddig Hall for more than 30 years.

“Over the years I’ve gained what many people would call an expert knowledge of the different types of apples and we have a collection of around 180 varieties.

“We planted the new museum orchard on one of the estate’s paddocks and hopefully in about 10-15 years time we will be making our own Erddig cider. It’s a large enough space that we can expand from the 28 different varieties we’ve planted which is two trees of each variety.

“The gardener team as a whole will be involved with the management of the orchard and we hope we will be there for the cider being made after being there for the pruning. We’ll also be able to participate in some of the scientific studies that are attached to the project.”

Glyn is hoping the orchard can grow and become an integral part of Erddig’s grounds, with the gardener already drawing up plenty of plans for the future.

“We might try to split the 56 trees into two different plots so that it becomes a feature of the orchard in the future, with perhaps a demonstration area where the apples are collected and pressed and also have bees there as we have a history of beekeeping here and they will help pollinate the fruit,” he said.

“These trees are newly planted and we are about to receive a further tranche of propagation. Altogether that should eventually add about 55 more fruit tree varieties to what we already are growing.

“We haven’t really dipped our finger into this area until now, so the museum orchard will be a real step forward in maintaining the Welsh heritage of cider making.”