Community orchards are places where varieties of fruit are grown by and for local people. They provide healthy fruit to share as well as a green haven for simple contemplation and enjoyment. Community orchards are also excellent wildlife habitats and carbon sinks. Many community orchards are centres for local festivities (for example based around national Apple Day), as well as more traditional activities such as wassailing.
Community Orchards can help to reinforce local distinctiveness and identity as people group together to save vulnerable varieties of apple, pear, cherry, plum and damson orchards. In a similar way to community gardens, community orchards can revive interest in growing and providing a way of sharing knowledge and horticultural skills.
The main driving force behind community orchards is an organisation called Common Ground. Since 1992 when Common Ground initiated the idea of Community Orchards, several hundred have been established throughout the country.
In parallel with the growth of community gardens, community orchards are becoming an increasingly popular way of improving the local environment and bringing opportunities and benefits to local people. There is also a strong drive to create community orchards to offset the loss of orchards due to pressure on land from buildings developments and roads. The growth of community orchards can also be attributed to widespread concerns over issues such as food miles, healthy eating and climate change.
In addition, the burgeoning number of community orchards is a more specific reaction to the loss of orchards from the British landscape. Figures show that the acreage of commercial orchards has declined rapidly. In 1970 MAFF recorded 62,200 hectares of orchards in the UK this declined to 46,600 hectares in 1980 and further to 22,400 hectares in 1997. This is a 64 per cent decline in 27 years.
Data from Natural England shows that the orchard area throughout England has declined by 63 per cent since 1950. For some counties the situation has been far worse. Devon lost 89 per cent of its orchards between 1946-2003 and Kent 92 per cent during the same period. Meanwhile Wales lost 94 per cent between 1958 and 1992.
Horfield Organic Community Orchard, Bristol. Set up originally in 1998 on overgrown allotment land, the Orchard now contains over 100 apple, pear, plum & nut trees plus soft fruit. It holds regular open events so members of the community can visit the site. Download a Q&A case study using the link below:
A hybrid between a community orchard and an Abundance project, Cardiff Orchard (a coalition between Transition Cardiff and FCFCG in Wales) has provided 60 fruit trees for community groups across the city to encourage fruit growing and is undertaking a mapping project of fruit and nut trees in Cardiff.
The Millennium Orchard, Yorkshire
The Millennium Orchard in Beverley was organised by the local Women's Institute and is considered to be one of the best developed community fruit tree orchards in the UK. The WI pick and use the fruit for traditional bottling and sell produce at events. Wildlife is an important consideration, with involvement from different local groups such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Nesting boxes for owls have been put up and there are sheltering belts of native trees such as rowan and hawthorn which help the diversity of the habitat for wildlife. The orchard has a range of northern varieties of apples. East Riding Council provided the land and the WI was helped by local fruit experts in the choice and management of the fruit trees.
Stamford Community Orchard Group, Lincolnshire
In the 19th century, the Lincolnshire town of Stamford was surrounded by orchards and nurseries growing apple and other fruit trees. More 40 apple varieties were bred here, but with the passing of time many of these have been lost. With the development of the town and the change in farming practices, most of the old orchards have now disappeared, although some remnants are still visible in the gardens of newly built houses. One of our main aims is to create an orchard planted with apple varieties that would have been grown in the area in the past. The orchard is intended to become a facility for the local community; to act as a resource for schools; to preserve wildlife associated with orchards and to retain local varieties of apples. This location is important, as it is near to local schools and is easily accessible by local residents.
Chorleywood Community Orchard, Hertfordshire
Chorleywood Community Orchardwas launched in late 2008 as a new community project to be enjoyed by everyone - local people, visitors to the area and wildlife. In February 2009, volunteers planted the first 24 apple trees at Chorleywood House Estate, a local nature reserve in south-west Hertfordshire. The Orchard will eventually be home to over 120 fruit trees, a mix of apples, plums and cherries, all carefully chosen either because they are old Hertfordshire varieties or are known to thrive locally. Old maps show that Chorleywood was once home to many apple and cherry orchards, including one on the site of the new Orchard. From the start of the twentieth century, however, these beautiful traditional landscapes declined as many were neglected and eventually lost to the wild. The community orchard is an attempt to reverse that trend.
Pickering Community Orchard, near Hull
The Pickering Road Orchard is a community orchard located in the West side of the City of Hull, East Yorkshire. It was set up five years ago with funding from the NHS 5 a day initiative. The orchard is run entirely by volunteers. The project has not only helped to promote healthy eating; it has had the added benefits of regenerating underused allotment land, encouraging exercise and outdoor activity, promoting local food production, and generating a stronger community identity. The orchard has also helped to bring many diverse associations and groups of people together. This is evident in the project’s steering committee, which is made up of representatives from the Allotments Association, Residents Association, Hull City Council, Age Concern, the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and the West Hull Primary Care Trust.
London Orchard Project
The London Orchard Project is a fresh initiative promoting orchards and fruit trees in London. We are working with Londoners to plant and harvest apple, pear and plum trees all over the city, and help us all to rediscover the pleasure of eating home-grown fruit.
www.commonground.org.uk & www.england-in-particular.info
Tel: 01747 850820
Common Ground is the main body for community orchards in the UK. The organisation aims to help make Britain a prominent fruit growing country once again for environmental, aesthetic, social, cultural and economic reasons, and believes that community orchards can help spearhead a revival. The organisation is the founder of Apple Day (October 21st). It also provides a range of useful information for people wishing to set up community orchards, through its website and several key publications. A good start is to visit the Orchard Path page of the website.
Friends of Midsummer Common
This group, based in Cambridgeshire have creating a useful guide to starting and maintaining a community orchard in PDF format.
Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens
The Federation has created a Community Orchard supplement to its Community Garden Starter Pack, which contains useful advice about setting up a community orchard or fruit garden. The supplement is available to download from the publications section of our website.
Department of Communities and Local Government
As part of a series of publications intended to cut red tape and help people gain access to information, DCLG has created a simple 'how to' guide for communities wanting to start up, share or save their own community orchards. The guide is available from the DCLG website. There is also a set of community orchard case studies available to download.
Useful books on orchards and growing apples:
Common Ground Book of Orchards: Community, Conservation and Culture
Community Orchards Handbook