Orchard revival has biodiversity at its core

Its harvest and pressing time for members of the Bullfield Community Orchard in Alnwick. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

‘This season of mellow fruitfulness’ has appealed from an early age, as did being surrounded by fruit and vegetables when we celebrated the harvest in song.

Once basic growing skills were acquired and the garden burgeoned with home-grown produce, the autumn experience was enriched and eagerly anticipated.

If you have no garden or growing space, but long to be involved in the cultivation and harvesting of fruit, join the nearest community orchard group and discover how different an otherwise dreary autumn can be.

In days of yore orchards were commonplace throughout the UK. Apples were associated with commercial outfits, country house gardens, farmsteads and domestic plots.

Browse a catalogue that lists heritage fruit and note the names representing settlements throughout the British Isles, for example Flower of Kent, introduced in 1620, Cornish Gilliflower, 1813, and Tower of Glamis, 1800.

The continual decline of orchards has been alarming. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food registered 62,200 hectares of commercial fruit-growing land in 1970; by 1997 this had fallen to 22,400 hectares, a 64 per cent reduction. Various reasons are offered for this decline – cheap imported fruit and demands on cultivated land to accommodate new roads and houses near existing settlements.

The question arises, is anything being done to turn this around?

The charity Common Ground, led the way in engaging people with their environment, including flagging up the decline in apple-growing.

The increasing number of community orchards throughout the country is encouraging, but there is some way to go.

Only three exist in our immediate area, at Bedlington, Lowick and Alnwick. Beyond that lies one at Jedburgh, another at Jesmond, and a cluster of four along the Tyne, West of Newcastle.

See the People’s Trust for Endangered Species map online, it identifies hundreds throughout Britain.

The orchard revival effort is clearly about more than growing a few apples, plums, pears and nuts. The Government recognised this in the 2007 Biodiversity Action Plan in designating it a priority habitat for wildlife.

Flora and fauna benefit from its presence, as do people across the age demographic within whose community it lies.

There’s a helpful Community and Local Government document available online that outlines the procedure in setting up such a project. It covers the essentials – starting up, planning permission, funding and different uses.

Lowick Community Orchard certainly ticked the boxes for ‘environmental awareness’ and ‘community involvement’ when we visited as Northumbria in Bloom judges over a two-year period.

It also convinced this fellow that such developments can have so many unpredicted, positive spin-offs for the village, town or city they’re at the heart of. When these are recognised, as they are at the Bullfield Community Orchard in Alnwick, it can become an outdoor social centre for the town.

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