Michael Gee from Barnstaple to receive BEM in honour of his work with Orchard Live
AN orchard conservationist from North Devon has been awarded the British Empire Medal in recognition of his work.
Michael Gee, 69, from Barnstaple, has received the gong, which was only reinstated earlier this year to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, thanks to his work on orchards in North Devon.
Mr Gee began orchard conservation work around 20 years ago and has since set up Orchard Live, a 300-strong group which holds training workshops and talks to educate people about the need to preserve the area's orchards.
He has no idea why he was nominated for a BEM, but thinks it may be to do with the fact he is nearing his tenth anniversary with Orchard Live and will be stepping down as chairman this month.
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He said: "I'm delighted. It will be a promotion of the work of Orchard Live.
"I got involved 20 years ago. At first it was just people doing talks and events and then ten years ago we formed Orchard Live. I never thought it would get that big."
Mr Gee has been recognised primarily for his work in reviving orchards in North Devon, the numbers of which have declined in recent years.
"Most of the ones in North Devon were around when people drank cider, not tea and coffee, and they had huge work forces who they used to pay in cider," he said.
As a result farmers no longer require the apples grown in the orchards and so they have been in steady decline as the land is put to other use.
But Mr Gee is insistent that Orchard Live does not exist to pressure farmers into keeping their land as an orchard, just to offer them the chance to attend one of his courses and learn about the possibilities an orchard can bring.
He has also been instrumental in the revival of the mazzard fruit in North Devon. After working with Landkey Parish Council and securing a lottery grant, the Millennium Green was formed in the village, allowing mazzard trees to flourish there.
"Personally I have been involved with the North Devon fruit, the mazzard," said Mr Gee.
"It used to grow in North Devon about ten years ago. It is a very special fruit.
"I worked with Landkey Parish Council and we got money for a Millennium Green. Then children helped plant 60 trees altogether."
But this year's weather has not made for a particularly good crop and Michael hopes next year will be better.
Mr Gee will be attending an awards ceremony to receive his BEM in summer 2013.
"It will be nice to go up to the garden party and I will probably take my niece which will be lovely," he said.
The BEM was reinstated by Prime Minister David Cameron after it was scrapped in 1993. It has been described as a working class gong and is awarded to people not of rank for their voluntary work.
Unlike an OBE or an MBE which are awarded by the Queen or the Prince of Wales, a BEM is awarded by a local lord lieutenant.