Launch Of The Galloway ‘Native’ Crab Apple Project

There are approximately 7,000 varieties of apple around the world, with more than 2,700 in the UK. Only one, the Crab Apple (Malus Sylvestris), is actually native to the UK, and it is under threat.  Galloway has a surprisingly vital part to play in this and a project is now underway to identify Galloway’s Native Crab Apples, grow our next generation of trees and preserve the native species.

Galloway has a well-kept secret, we have special native crab apple trees – hardy, long lived and much-loved scrubby pasture trees.  They are found in rough pasture on hills, along the coast along riverbanks and sometimes in gardens. They bear beautiful pink blossom in spring, in autumn golden globes of fruit, locally known as ‘scroggies’ that sometimes hang on throughout the winter. Galloway, together with a couple of other areas in the UK, has an exceptionally high level of native genetic material in its Crab Apple stock – likely due to the remote nature of our current treestock and the reduced chance of cross pollination with other apple species.

However not all of our crab apple trees are true natives, some have been cross pollinated with domestic apples and ornamental varieties. This puts the survival of the true ‘native’ Crab Apples under threat. This project, led by the South West Scotland Community Woodlands Trust, is on a mission to find Galloway’s true natives through DNA testing, use this to grow the next generation of native trees and seek to protect this important natural asset.

When these trees have been identified, pips will be planted and growing will initially be encouraged in a number of tree nurseries in the area. These will then be planted out in a variety of locations up and down the Ken/Dee valley – with sites varying from lowland through to forest plantings, and on remote hill and coastal locations to ensure the longevity of the species.

The project will be calling upon the support of volunteers to:

  • Locate wild Crab Apple trees in the Galloway Glens catchment area, trees that are in wooded pasture, at road or river side, and especially remote hill trees as they are more likely to be pure native.
  • Monitor the dates when the tree blossoms, the length of yearly growth, the quantity of fruit produced and the taste of the apples (both immediately when picked and after keeping)

The project is being led by Jools Cox and Jenny Stephenson from the South West Community Woodlands Trust. Jools said:

“This project seeks to preserve our native Crab Apple species, which is reason enough, but also should be considered against broader topics such as food security and climate change. If our population of native trees get diseased or suffer effects of climate change, we may need a native seed bank to regenerate our domestic stock and could be an important factor in future food security.
It’ll also be interesting to learn more about cows-and-apples – are many of the crab apple trees in old cow-pastures?  Do the apple seeds germinate perfectly in cowpats?  Is Apple Wooded Pasture (cattle-grazed open woodlands and scraggy parks) part of the story, an old Galloway tradition?
If you have some information, or the location of potentially native Crab Apple trees, ideally with grid or GPS references, we would like to hear from you [email protected]

The project is being supported through the Galloway Glens ‘Our Heritage’ Small Grants Scheme, an initiative of the Council’s Environment Team and funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Galloway Glens Administrator, Anna Harvey, added:

“’Native Crab Apples of the Galloway Glens’ is one of the latest recipients of a grant from the ‘Our Heritage’ Small Grant Scheme. It is a wonderful project that aims to identify and preserve the truly native wild apple trees. There will be various opportunities for members of the public to get involved from guided walks to collecting samples and taking photographs. We are proud to support South West Community Woodland Trust in their efforts to conserve native species and to increase our future food security.” 

The name Crab is thought to come from the Norse skab meaning small and rough tree closely akin to the Scots ‘scribe’ and ‘scrub’ and in willow scrub.