Just chuck it out the window! It’ll be fine

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A casual toss of an innocent apple core may be having unintended consequences, says resident wildlife columnist Jane Adams

Comma butterfly enjoying a rotting apple in some autumnal sunshine.
Image: Jane Adams

Have you ever noticed apple trees growing at the side of the road? Weighed down by ripe fruits, these wayside trees are especially conspicuous in October and November at the side of A-roads. Until recently – and probably rather naively – I’d never really considered their origins. Then, it hit me. Apple cores!
It’s funny how none of us would ever dream of throwing litter from our cars. But haven’t most of us lobbed an apple core from our car, saying, ‘it’s fine, it will rot down’?
I know I have.

Slack-ma-girdle
Cider apple orchards once covered more than 10,000 acres in Dorset. Sadly, they are now
few and far between, along with Buttery d’Or and Slack-ma-girdle – just two of the many traditional Dorset cider-making apple varieties. Gone too are some of the wild animals that in turn depended on this important habitat – birds like the lesser spotted woodpecker, that nests in old apple trees and is no bigger than a house sparrow; or the iridescent-green noble chafer beetle, whose larvae feed on decaying fruit wood. Both are now incredibly rare nationwide.
Which is why our own garden fruit trees are so important. Your old apple tree might not be fruiting quite as well as it used to, but don’t cut it down. Could you donate some of its less-than-perfect fruit to wildlife or its rotten trunk to beetles?
On sunny, warm days, red admiral and peacock butterflies love to gorge on the sugars from fallen apples before they go into hibernation.
Then, as the weather cools, the hungry blackcaps, song thrushes, blackbirds, redwings and fieldfares will move in to hoover up any leftovers, while tits enjoy the insects that also call the rotting fruit home.
And what about that discarded apple core? Will it do any harm? Some scientists think it will. Research in Scotland shows that crab apples (our only wild apple species, and often found at the side of roads) have hybridised with apple core-thrown trees, especially in more populated areas, lessening the crab apple’s genetic purity. Here in Dorset, it might already be too late. Most of our ‘wild’ crab apples may already be
hybrids. It’s a sobering thought.

Blue tit enjoying the insects within a rotting apple

Recognising apples:
Crab apple
Our only common wild variety of apple. Two inches in diameter or less and sour to taste. Good for making crab apple jelly, but best left to the wildlife.
Cultivated apples
Mostly grown from a cutting from the desired apple variety, of which there are more than 7,000 worldwide (eg Granny Smith) which is then grafted (attached) to a vigorous rootstock to produce a healthy identical apple.
Wayside apple trees
Grown from the pips of the original apple variety (eg Granny Smith) but not identical to the fruit they came from. Some make good eaters/cookers, but they are usually best left to the wildlife and admired from the car.

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