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Page last updated at 16:27 GMT, Friday, 10 December 2010
Why mistletoe is still being grown in Cambridgeshire
The white berries gleam against the green leaves of the parasite mistletoe

"I could sell more than I produce. It's difficult to get enough mistletoe, so yes, it's still very popular," said Willingham farmer Ray Manning.

He was speaking after the National Trust launched a campaign to persuade us to buy British mistletoe.

The problem is that it needs orchards, and British orchards have declined dramatically in the past few decades.

"We've only got a third now of what we were growing in the 1980s," agreed the Cambridgeshire fruit farmer.

Ray's mistletoe harvest is just coming into berry, and offers a sea of green in an otherwise leafless orchard.

It is, of course, a parasite, so careful management is needed to ensure the mistletoe does not overwhelm its host.

"It can't exist on its own," explained Ray. "It requires the apple tree and it doesn't give the apple tree anything.

"In fact it takes the sap from it."

In addition, Ray has to make sure that there are male and female plants side-by-side, because without the male plants the females cannot produce the distinctive white berries.

Buy British

The National Trust has just launched a campaign to persuade people to buy British-grown mistletoe.

Naturalists are warning that mistletoe could die out in Britain within the next 20 years.

There are environmental reasons for not letting this happen. Six insects rely upon mistletoe for their existence, and it supplies winter food for birds, including the blackcap and mistle thrush.

National Trust ecologist Peter Brash explained: "You will be supporting a small home-grown industry, while helping to ensure a future for mistletoe and the creatures that are dependent upon it."

And it is another way of supporting British-grown fruit.

Farmers across England have grubbed up their trees because they have become economically unviable in the face of cheap imports. Cambridgeshire now has a third of the orchards it had 50 years ago.

Ray also believes there is a practical reason for buying locally-grown mistletoe.

"You want it as fresh as possible," he said. "I cut it every day, or every two or three days.

"A lot of the mistletoe is imported from France. It's been cut several weeks and it tends to get a bit limp, but fresh stuff will last well over Christmas."

To find out more about the National Trust's campaign, go to its website below:

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