Cider hustings hits Ledbury

Cider HustingsThe health benefits of trees, the true definition of cider, and the need for electoral reform. A hustings with a difference hit the bustling high street of Ledbury on Saturday. In the wake of the publication of the National Association of Cider Makers’ manifesto, Greggs Pit founder and cidermaker James Marsden, invited the General Election candidates to debate the issues vital to the survival of cider. NACM comms officer, aka The Ciderologist, Gabe Cook, kept the peace for what turned out to be a lively hour against the backdrop of the Three Counties Cider Shop.

As a wine producer, Liberal Democrat candidate Jeanie Falconer appreciated that the 7,000 hl duty exemption was ‘totally essential’ for the health of the cider industry. ‘It allows innovation and diversity,’ she said. ‘And survival. But you need to look at the definition of cider,’ she said, referring to the minimum juice content of 35%. ‘If I put 1% of water into my wine, I can’t call it wine,’ she said, calling for a substantial rise in minimum juice content, to as much as 85%. Falconer felt this redefinition of cider would be one way of tackling the social issues caused by so-called white cider. 

Sasha NorrisOrchards are vitally important for wildlife,’ said Sasha Norris, Independent candidate, who was escorted by Owla, the remarkably well-behaved, rescue owl she works with in her role as founder of Herefordshire Wildlife Rescue. ‘And how they are managed equally so.’

Calling for reform of the current farm payment schemes, Norris said the Community Agricultural Policy was ‘failing our wildlife. This is probably the most diverse and ecologically special county,’ she said, warning that, if changes weren’t made, ‘We are going to lose what is special about this county.’

Norris called for Herefordshire to be declared a National Park, citing the success of other regions such as parts of Wales. ‘Wales earns £1,000m in wildlife tourism’ she said, ‘Sheep earn £400m.’ She also cited numerous studies confirming the health benefits of trees.

Green Party candidate Dr Ellie Chowns also focused on the environmental potential of well managed orchards. Of the £3.5bn that goes to farmers, 88% relates to land usage, with only 12% going to schemes that benefit the enviroment, she said. With 60% of species in decline, and 15% on the endangered list, Chowns called for this split to change. ‘Protection of the enviroment will create jobs,’ she said.

How we manage the land also had the potential to reduce the environmental impact of flooding, an issue which is ‘massively urgent’ Chowns said. ‘The biggest opportunity is the biggest challenge.’

Roger Page, Labour Party candidate, supported lower abv cider initiatives, ‘Because there is a [health] problem,’ he said. On subsidies, Page supported those which served ‘to create a level playing field’, citing in particular traditional and organic methods of farming.

The hustings closed with passionate discussion on the need for electoral reform, with candidates favouring a move to proportional representation.

Sitting MP, Conservative Bill Wiggin, had sent apologies, due to a prior engagement. 

Further hustings are planned in Ledbury for Thursday 1 June, at the Community Hall, Lawnside Roast, at 7.30pm.