Long Ashton Research Station
In 1903 Lady Emily Smyth, widow of Sir Greville Smyth (owner of the Ashton Court Estate) provided six hectares of land in Long Ashton so that a National Fruit and Cider Institute could be set up. In 1912 Lady Emily Smyth gave more land to allow the expansion of the institute. At this time it became the University of Bristol’s Department of Agricultural and Horticultural Research and it was renamed the Long Ashton Research Station.
During the early years research concentrated on improving the growing of cider apples and the production of cider. Later its remit widened to include most fruit crops, especially pears, apples, plums, strawberries and blackcurrants. Many new varieties of fruit which were developed were named after local towns, rivers and hills e.g. the Cheddar Cross apple, Mendip cross blackcurrant and Severn Cross plum.
In the 1930s work on fruit juices and syrups led to the commercial production of blackcurrant juice (which was later marketed as Ribena) and rose hip syrup. These were important home grown sources of vitamin C during the Second World War. Research into willows started in the 1940s and continued with breeding varieties for biomass production.
In the 1980s the staff at Long Ashton began research into arable crops. In 1986 fruit research stopped at Long Ashton when this work was transferred to East Malling Research Station in Kent.
Long Ashton Research Station closed in 2003 and many areas of its work were transferred to Rothamsted Experimental Station (now Rothamsted Research) at Harpenden in Hertfordshire.
The key achievements of the Long Ashton Research Station were
- Research into cider making.
- Research into plant breeding, nutrition, crop diseases, weeds, cropping systems and crop protection, especially spray techniques.
- The creation of the National Willow Collection (which is now located at Rothamsted) and research into the use of willows for biomass production and gasification.
- Research into genetically modified crops, especially wheat and oilseed rape.
- Finding ways to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides on crops such as wheat, barley and oilseed rape.
- Research into the production of high value chemicals in plants and the role of hormones in plant development.
The site at Long Ashton was sold off and redeveloped for housing. However its existence is commemorated by an old cider press and in the street names on the new housing estate – Pear Tree Avenue, Bramley Copse, Perry Road and Blackcurrant Drive.
The Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) tree was discovered growing near the remote village of Mo-tao-chi in the Chinese province of Sichuan in the 1940s. In 1946 it was identified by Professor Cheng of China’s National Central University as a Metasequoia, a species of tree which was thought to have been extinct for 5 million years. Dawn Redwoods are fast growing deciduous conifers. They have now been planted in many parks and botanical gardens but they are still a critically endangered species in the wild. The Dawn Redwood at Long Ashton Research Station now stands on Pear Tree Avenue.