TV WILDLIFE experts Chris Packham and Iolo Williams have weighed into an international brewing giant’s decision to rip out a 300-acres apple orchard which supplied Hereford-based cider maker Bulmers.

Trees covering the equivalent of 140 football pitches on a farm near Raglan in the River Wye catchment have been pulled out by Bulmers owner Heineken, in what environmentalists have labelled an act of eco-vandalism.

The 300 acre orchard in Monmouthshire that has been uprooted by owner Heineken. April 29 2024. Heineken has been slammed for chopping down a 300-acre orchard - the size of 140 football pitches. The UK's largest cider maker has felled the huge site - also home to a significant number migratory birds. Heineken has now 'levelled' Penrhos Orchard, on the Offa's Dyke path in Monmouthshire, Wales. According to the BBC, Heineken uprooted thousands of trees planted in 1997 as it wants to sell the land as they had a surplus of apples - but a demand decline for cider.
Heineken have been slammed for ripping out the 300-acre Penrhos Orchard. Photo: Tom Wren/SWNS (Tom Wren / SWNS)

The international brewing giant says the slump in demand for cider means they want to “make best use of the land” at Penrhos Orchard on the Offa's Dyke path, and sell it on for agriculture.

But it has caused a storm of protest, with Packham labelling it "immoral" and a "tragic waste" and saying he will be boycotting Heineken products.

"In a biodiversity crisis, I would say it's bordering on unethical and certainly immoral, because resources like that ought to be passed on to people who can use them to enrich wildlife and human life," he said.

Although teetotal, he said he drank Heineken alcohol-free lager, but would now boycott it.

"I'm not drinking any more of it, because I just think we want companies in our lives that are looking after our planet and our future and our children's future," he said.

"They had an opportunity to do that and they've just squandered it, I just think it's really short-sighted."

Iolo Williams says Heineken's action is 'disgraceful'
Iolo Williams says Heineken's action is 'disgraceful'. Photo: Iolo Williams (Photo: Iolo Williams)

Fellow naturalist Iolo Williams called Heineken’s decision "disgraceful", telling Sky News: "I think that with these big companies, the only way (we can make our voice heard) is to boycott them, hit them in the pocket.

"I genuinely think it's tragic what they've done, when we could have helped to tackle the biodiversity crisis, the climate emergency, physical and mental health issues.

"All of these could have been helped just by them saying 'Listen, we're not going to use it again, why don't we give it over to the local community?'"

Charles Watson, chair of River Action UK, which is at the forefront of the battle against ongoing pollution in the Wye, said the river "needed every tree and plant available" in its catchment to help reverse its decline

"It is hugely disappointing to see Heineken destroy such a huge volume of natural biomass," he said.

"Yet again the environment is being sacrificed for corporate profit."

And local ecologist Chris Formaggia added: “At this time now all the trees would be in their full blossom. It would be a really impressive area, so the changes are absolutely total.”

The biggest impact of ripping out the orchard, planted in 1997, would be on wintering thrushes including fieldfare and redwing that thrive on “wind-blown apple crops”.

“I think inevitably there will be a big loss here. That foraging and that safety of the trees has gone and it’s not going to be replaced,” he said.

But the brewer, which bought Bulmers in 2008, say they have done nothing wrong and have acted in accordance with the Wildlife Act.

A spokesperson said: "Over a number of years, the cider market has slowed and the yield of apples per acre has increased, leading to a huge surplus of apples.

"The bittersweet apples grown at the commercially-farmed bush orchards at Penrhos have no other use than creating cider.

"In order to make best use of the land to grow other crops, the bush orchards had to be removed. All the wood is shredded for biomass and the bushes were removed in line with The Wildlife Act...

"We continue to source all our apples from around 6,000 acres of orchards in and around Herefordshire and will continue to do so."