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Blewbury Collage

This page describes our community orchard project.

Why an orchard?

The idea of community orchards was put forward in 1992 by the charity Common Ground. Since then the idea has taken off across Britain. Orchards can be enjoyed by everyone, and of course they are a wonderful source of locally grown fresh fruit. Community orchards are an educational resource for local schools and children – fruit picking, cooking, and making jam and fruit juice. They are also a great opportunity for everyone to learn new skills gained from planting, pruning and maintenance of the fruit trees. And of course growing trees help to soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

In 2007, traditional orchards were designated as a priority habitat in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan because of the wildlife that can be supported by this environment – insects, birds, bees, bats, foxes and small mammals as well as wild flowers. Orchards can also protect bumblebees by creating a habitat for them. And some community groups keep honey bees on their orchard to pollinate the fruit trees. So orchards are also a good place to watch wildlife.

Background

In Oxfordshire, Wolvercote (near Oxford) started the ball rolling with an orchard for their village to enjoy. Here in Blewbury the idea of a community orchard was taken up by Mike Edmunds in his 2010 booklet ‘Orchards in and around Blewbury’, in which he concluded: ‘We would like to find some land which could be set aside as a new Blewbury orchard for all to share.’ Our orchard has been named for Mike as a memorial to all that he did for Blewbury’s environment.

In 2015 we heard that grants for community orchards were available from TOE2 (Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment) and we submitted an application. In March 2016 we were awarded a grant of over £2000.

When we were applying, TOE2 suggested that we might like to talk to people in nearby Brightwell-cum-Sotwell who had already established an orchard of about 50 trees supported by a grant from them. Brightwell have been very generous in sharing their experience, expertise and advice with us – we are especially grateful to Alison Bloomfield and Paul Chilton.

Where to put it?

plot before planting view towards the west

Tickers Folly Field seemed the only sufficiently large open space in the village that could accommodate an orchard of some size. It is owned by the Parish Council, and although it is mainly used as a play area its large size provides quite a bit of relatively little-used space. On the north side (next to London Road) there is a croquet lawn, and at the southern side there is a play area in the south-west corner, but by putting the orchard in the south-east corner it does not encroach on the sports or play facilities.

The first photo above shows the south-east area before planting the orchard. The second photo is looking along the southern part of the field towards the play area and the west. These illustrate how the orchard can help to soften and enhance the open, somewhat bare, scenery.

soil sample

Preparations

A group of enthusiasts began by carrying out a feasibility study. A soil survey was undertaken, with positive results: the soil looked good and quite free of stones; going deeper it becomes chalky. (Photo at right is typical of the 13 samples, each 90 cm deep, taken over a large part of the field.) The project was presented to the village in Bulletin articles and exhibitions to test local reaction, which was very enthusiastic, with plenty of volunteers putting their names forward to help and many suggestions for the fruits and varieties that should be included. An orchard does capture the imagination. They can be magical places and havens for wildlife, and we plan to make the most of this opportunity by creating a wildlife-friendly habitat in the orchard.

By early September 2016 a list of fruits, varieties and rootstocks had been proposed, taking full account of the various suggestions from the village, and a preliminary layout of the orchard had been drawn up. The next step was to approach nurseries for prices and experts for advice on exactly what form to buy the trees in: bare root vs. potted, one vs. two years old, and to fine-tune the varieties and rootstocks.

There is a small diagram of the field below; for a much larger version of the diagram together with a list of tree varieties, rootstocks and numbers on the diagram click here (pdf). Note that the Google Earth image used in the diagram was made before the play area existed.

reduced tree layout diagram

Click on the diagram above for a larger version as well as a full list of varieties, rootstocks and numbers.

On 3 December 2016 we planted about half the trees, and on 18 December we finished the job. A large number of people helped, so it only took a few hours. The trees are protected from rabbits and deer by mesh cylinders, and a mulch of well-rotted horse manure was spread around the base of each tree. A selection of photos is shown below.

tree planting tree planting tree planting
tree planting tree planting
tree planting

The priority of the orchard team will shift to focus on how to further enhance the environmental benefits – such as by creating good habitats for pollinating insects. Another priority is to involve village children in the project and to ensure that the community as a whole feels that it ‘owns’ the orchard! And last, but by no means least, the team must draw up a management plan to ensure that the orchard is cared for into the future, long after grant funding has been used up – a very sensible requirement of both TOE2 and the Parish Council.

Contact and more information

For more information about this project, and even better if you would like to help, please contact John Ogden:Eric's email

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