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Open Features: If Only Trees Could Talk...

Britain's National Trust is using modern tehnology to bring orchards back to life.

Have you ever wondered what trees would say if they could talk? If so, then the National Trust’s new talking trees trail at Cotehele in Cornwall is set to bring the story of the humble apple tree and orchards to life.

In a pilot project using the latest technology, the trees will literally talk – via an audio recording - when visitors swipe a small pen-like device over any apple logo they find as they wonder through the orchard.

The 15 audio clips, of varying lengths, have been recorded with the help of the local community. Each recording describes the different apple trees and varieties of apple, as well as other orchard occupants including honey bees and mistletoe.

Trail followers, will for example, hear the Colloggett Pippin’ apple tree talk in his local dialect about his breeding and how he makes great cider. The bees will talk about their short and busy lives and how they make honey. Other recordings include a wassailing song [1] and a recipe for apple crumble.

Chris Groves, orchard officer at Cotehele says: “The beauty of this device is that it allows people of all ages, particularly children, the freedom to learn outdoors and at their own pace. There is no prescribed route so people can listen to the recordings in whatever order they choose, making it easier to enjoy.

“The talking ‘pen’ is also easy to use, and the perfect way to bring to life the stories behind the apple varieties and the magic of the orchard. Cotehele is in the Tamar Valley in Cornwall, an area historically famed for its apple and cherry orchards. The old orchard, which dates from pre 1731, is full of character and mystery, while the ‘Mother Orchard’, which contains 300 trees and 120 delicious apple varieties, was planted by the local community in 2007 to establish a gene pool of heritage varieties.

“Our aim with the trail is to raise awareness of the importance of orchards, and how vital it is to protect the hundreds of different apple varieties we have in this country. We hope the trail will truly capture the imagination of many visitors to ensure that our orchards are protected for ever, for everyone.”

Other apple varieties featured in the trail include the Beauty of Bath an early dessert apple raised in Somerset in 1864, Cotehele Beauty, a dessert apple grown from a seedling found at Cotehele, Mère de Menage, a cooking apple known locally as ‘Blackrock’ – a once widespread apple found throughout the Tamar Valley but was picked from only one tree found in1980 - and Bramley Seedling, perhaps the most famous cooking apple, which celebrated its 200th anniversary last year.

The Talking Trees project has been funded thanks to money from Defra’s Greener Living Fund [2]. It is also part of Natural England’s and the Natural Trust’s joint project to promote traditional orchards by restoring, replanting and establishing orchards all around the country [3].

Visitors will be able to follow the trail until January, and again from 12 March 2011. Normal gardens admissions apply and there is no additional charge for doing the trail. The trail takes around 45 minutes to complete, and the audio pen is available from reception.

Please visit http:\\www.nationaltrust.org.uk/cotehele

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