By Matthew Appleby
Britain’s fruit tree collection could be moved after talks broke down between tenant and landlord.
The national fruit collection at Brogdale’s 60ha of fruit orchards could move from Faversham to East Malling, Kent, if a tender from the Imperial College and Brogdale Horticultural Trust (BHT), which run the collection, is successful.
This could mean the splitting of the collection and restrictions to public access, said landscape architect Tom La Dell. He is now helping run the commercial side of the collection under not-for-profit company Brogdale Collections as an interim measure after BHT and its commercial site landlord Hillreed Land fell out.
BHT was set up in 1990 after the Government axed the national fruit trials research station in 1989. BHT bought Brogdale Farm in 1990 and Hillreed bought it in 2000 after BHT was unable to pay the 10-year mortgage, leasing the land back to BHT. It now attracts 40,000 visitors a year.
BHT loses possession of the site on 31 March after lease talks between Hillreed and the trust broke down.
Hillreed has offered BHT preferential rents for offices and shops since then but is now spending £1m on redeveloping the commercial units. “BHT is seeking to move the collection to East Malling,” said La Dell, who is the “public interest” part of a horticulture and science-backed bid to take over the collection. “It would mean breaking up the collection with expensive propagation on site and little or no public access. The best option would be to keep the collection at Brogdale.”
BHT chief executive Jane Garrett said: “We can’t stay because our landlord has not extended our lease on our shop, plant centre and tearoom. We need commercial activity to support public activity, but not the collection — DEFRA supports that.”
Hillreed chairman Tony Hillier said the move had “opened a Pandora’s box”. He added: “There can be no reason to move — security’s good and the reasons they’re giving in public don’t stand up to scrutiny. DEFRA will come up with what’s best for DEFRA.
“We will deal with whoever it selects, but if the collection moves I believe it’s bad news for DEFRA. It’s been here 40 years and is in the national consciousness. So why move elsewhere and start the process again?”
DEFRA national fruit collection programme manager Dr Emma Hennessey confirmed in a letter to Hillier that DEFRA is passing on his details to applicants for the Brogdale contract and Hillreed’s willingness to work with any potential partners to extend the lease and ensure access and security.
The plant centre is due to close on 1 April and tenders must be with DEFRA by 15 May. BHT’s contract to run the collection ends on 31 March 2008.