A Landkey orchard guru has produced a new book which records the history of fruit-growing in Devon and the many varieties of heritage apples in the county.

The Devon Orchards Book by Michael GeeThe Devon Orchards Book by Michael Gee

The Devon Orchards Book by Michael Gee has been sponsored by the Devon branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

The aim is to preserve important knowledge of rural life and traditions for future generations - since the 1960s, two-thirds of the county's orchards have been lost and many ancient apple varieties have disappeared.

Michael is also the author of Mazzards: The Revival of the Curious North Devon Cherry and the founder of Orchards Live, a charity which protects and promotes Devon's orchards and traditional apple varieties.

Michael said: "It's challenging to grow good fruit in Devon, and yet orchards and cider are part of the county's image.

"Orchards once surrounded most farms and villages, and there are still hundreds remaining, plus some new ones, but their story has never been told."

Last spring, a joint project between Orchards Live, the South West Fruit Group, and the Royal Horticultural Society established a unique 'mother orchard' of Devon apples at RHS Garden Rosemoor at Great Torrington.

There are around 70 known varieties of apple found and grown in Devon. 45 of the most threatened - among them, eaters, cookers and cider apples - will be grown on the site. The orchard will ensure that these diverse types of ancient apples won't die out.

Jonathan Webster, Curator of RHS Garden Rosemoor, says, "We welcome the production of this new book to raise awareness of the importance of preserving the wonderful diversity of Devon's traditional apple varieties, many of which are now rare. If we can encourage people to grow them, then they will come off the endangered list."

The Devon Orchards Book, published by Halsgrove, costs £14.99 and can be bought via CPRE Devon's website www.cpredevon.org.uk .