The Orchard Path

Save our Orchards

About two thirds of Britain's orchards have been lost since 1960, Devon has lost 90% since WWII. Orchards are grubbed up and replanted with cereals or ousted by new development from roads to housing, many simply fading away. With them we lose a quintessential feature of our landscape and an abundance of cultural associations.

The apple is a wonderful symbol of variety and meaning, the orchard a rich example of the cultural landscape. Together they provide a way of expressing both the robustness and the vulnerability of our local culture. With the loss of an orchard goes the loss of landscape richness, knowledge of local recipes, songs, customs, wassailing, cidermaking, storage buildings and wild life. Lost too are the social gatherings for work and informal exchange of knowledge about the place and the skills of pruning, grafting and growing. The intricacy of community and the local distinctiveness of both the land and culture is diminished.

Of the 2,000 culinary and dessert apples, and hundreds more cider varieties, which have been grown in this country, only a few handfuls are widely known and used. And yet thousands have been discovered or developed that are particular to different places and have assumed local names and uses. The hundreds of varieties of damsons, plums, cob nuts, cherries, pears are also rich in associations and potential.

Since 1988, we have done a great deal to research and promote this astonishing diversity, linking it to the conservation of old orchards, the planting of new ones and the local distinctiveness of places. We have given people the courage to keep on asking for variety and season in shops and restaurants. We have produced pamphlets, exhibitions, articles, started a county gazetteer of varieties and published the book, Orchards to excite people into finding, growing and using local fruits.

Because of our efforts, traditional orchards are now part of the DEFRA Countryside Stewardship grant system and old fruit trees can have tree preservation orders placed upon them. Cornwall, Somerset, Worcestershire and Kent are among the councils now giving grants and advice directly because of our work. Orchards and Wild Life, the report of our joint conference with English Nature in 1999 presents arguments for the ecological value of orchards.

In many areas, networks of people who value local orchards are being established to share knowledge and expertise. The Women's Institute with the Cheshire Landscape Trust and others has produced a book The Orchards of Cheshire. The Hertfordshire Orchards Initiative was set up in 1998 to celebrate local fruit variety and orchards. Members organise horticultural training and seminars, carry out historical orchard surveys, and promote the planting of new orchards of Hertfordshire fruit. Other groups are emerging, from Norfolk to Cumbria.

In 1988 we commissioned James Ravilous to document orchards in the West Country. The resulting exhibition Orchards, photographs of the West Country, toured venues in the south west and was then made available to hire. In 1992 the Orchards Display of laminated panels of information and photographs was produced and is hired out still to community groups and local authorities. In 1993 we published the Apple Map of Britain, a beautiful full colour poster which charts the provenance of over 300 traditional apple varieties county by county and in 1994 the Apple Broadcast, a one-off newspaper about saving old orchards, creating community orchards and organising your own Apple Day. In 1999 we updated the Save our Orchards pamphlet giving the arguments for conserving old orchards and planting new ones and produced the Orchards Slide Pack, 20 colour slides showing orchards in different landscapes with ideas for celebrating Apple Day and examples of Community Orchards. In 2000 we published the Common Ground Book of Orchards, the result of more than a dozen years of campaigning, and a positive survival plan for orchards, and places, in which everyone can take part.

Case Studies of Threatened Orchards

What is a Community Orchard? You might find one to visit, or be inspired to revive or establish one in your place!