THE Shepton Mallet Cider Mill’s dedicated orchard, Stewley Orchard, near Ashill, has been held up as a model of responsible planting, sustainability and active encouragement of wildlife.

Cider apple trees make up 32 of the site’s 40 acres with the rest reserved for wildflower meadows, native trees, ponds and eco-friendly extra wide margins.

Now the orchard is playing its part in a three-way relationship between Shepton Mallet Cider Mill, Taunton and District Beekeepers and Somerset Community Foundation.

The foundation’s development director, Ellie Anderson, said: “By listening to how companies view their charitable support we can match up businesses to the right initiatives – often expanding their original ideas. In the current climate, money has to work harder than ever and every pound that is spent has to count.

“When the Shepton Mallet Cider Mill committed to our Somerset Guardian scheme we were able to find them the perfect partner – naturally, with the importance of honey bees to apple pollination and therefore the cider industry, this could not have been a better fit!”

Taunton and District Beekeepers is one of the biggest of Somerset’s 11 districts with more than 200 members. From February onwards, it provides a packed season of courses for complete beginners through to workshops for experienced beekeepers.

With a three-year commitment to supporting the Somerset Guardian Scheme , funding from the Shepton Mallet Cider Mill will initially provide this group with a model hive and a mobile observation hive as educational tools at Stewley Orchard. These will not only be used for the courses but for school visits.

Adam Robins, from Taunton & District Beekeepers , said: “If we can engage with children and gain their interest at such an early age, the future for our honey bees will be a lot rosier.

“These hives will enable us to go into schools and other facilities where health and safety issues may prevent live bees from being present.”

Stewley Orchard’s controller Martin Ridley, himself a keen beekeeper overseeing several hives on the site, said: “The relationship between honey bees and apples is absolutely key – apple blossom flowers early in the year, providing the bees with a vital source of pollen and nectar in the spring.

“In turn, the bees pollinate the flowers and ‘set’ the fruit – ensuring a good crop of apples so that we can make great tasting cider! It’s a win-win situation.”