© GETTY Professor Adrian Newton will oversee the launch a new government-funded project in Kyrgyzstan to conduct research on the threatened trees
The wild fruit tree cousins of Britain's favorite domestic apples are teetering on the brink of global extinction, according to a new report.

Scientists have drawn up a 'Red List' of 44 species of Central Asian fruit trees that could soon disappear unless drastic action is taken.

Around 90 per cent of the fruit and nut forests in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan have been destroyed over the past 50 years.

Many of the apple trees blooming in our back gardens are descendants of these ancient Central Asian varieties, which were distributed west along the Silk Road by traders.

Experts have warned that the demise of the wild trees - and their unique genetic make-up - poses a real threat to our own food security.

As a result of the fragmented, mountainous geography of Central Asia, these plants display exceptionally high genetic diversity.

They have evolved with a higher tolerance of pests and disease and could prove vital in the future development of new disease-resistant or climate-tolerant fruit varieties.

Our less diverse domestic varieties are more vulnerable to these threats and desperately need the genetic 'back up' of their ancient cousins to ensure survival.

Dr Antonia Eastwood, lead author of The Red List of Trees of Central Asia, said the security of wild forests was vitally important.

She said: "Central Asia's forests are a vital storehouse for wild fruit and nut trees.

"If we lose the genetic diversity these forests contain, the future security of these foods could be jeopardized, especially in the face of unknown changes in global climate."

The Red List was compiled by an international team of scientists and published by Flora and Fauna International (FFI).

Described as a biological "Eden 2", Central Asia is home to over 300 wild fruit and nut species, including wild apple, plum, cherry, apricot, walnut.

All domestic apple trees currently in cultivation are now known to be derived from the wild species 'Malus sieversii 3' - one of the threatened native species identified on the list.

Conservationists blame excess logging, human development, pests, diseases, overgrazing, desertification and fires as the main reason for crippling deforestation in the area.

The break-up of the Soviet Union, and the resulting lack of financial resources and infrastructure, has also had a negative impact on the forests.

Conservation charity FFI is already working in Kyrgyzstan to save and restore one of the most highly threatened apple species, strikingly red-colored Niedzwetzky apple.

As part of the Global Trees Campaign, which aims to conserve forests around the world, the charity is helping local communities find alternative livelihoods to reduce pressure on the region.

Other initiatives include encourage sustainable use of the forests and grants for eco-friendly small businesses.

Professor Adrian Newton of Bournemouth University will oversee the launch a new government-funded project in Kyrgyzstan to conduct research on the threatened trees.

He said: "It is a great privilege to have the opportunity to help conserve these forests, which have been of such evolutionary importance.

"Given their extraordinary role in human history and culture, it is hard to think of any native forests more worthy of conservation.

"We very much look forward to working with colleagues, both in the UK and in Kyrgyzstan, to help prevent extinction of these wild fruit and nut tree species."