On the evening of 12th July 2012 a group from Transition Loughborough visited the Wymeswold Community Orchard. This orchard was planted in 2007 and we wanted to find out from them how they went about setting up their scheme, choosing and planting the trees and then maintaining and harvesting them. This information could help the Transition Loughborough food and gardening group determine how best to go about a community orchard project in Loughborough, as has been suggested for the Gorse Covert area.
The Wymeswold Community Orchard was first proposed in 2005 when the local parish council requested suggestions for uses for a plot of land that it had just acquired a long term lease on. A committee was formed from local residents in early 2007 to run an association to manage the site, with the first of the 123 trees being planted in late 2007. Each tree is sponsored at a cost of £25 and carries a plaque detailing the type of fruit (apple, pear, plum, etc), the name of the variety and the person sponsoring it (or a dedication to a loved one, name of local organisation, etc). Once planted though the trees become community property and anyone can come to harvest from any of them.
The planning for the orchard allowed for one tree in ten to fail and need replanting – the actual rate has only been slightly higher than that. Replanting costs are covered by the original sponsorship costs, which also cover tree guards, stakes, ties, etc. Rabbits and muntjac deer have been the biggest cause of tree loss so far. The site has a thin top soil over a heavy clay base, which has resulted in slow growth from the trees – we’ll need to remember to make test pits across any site TL help manage to check what the soil condition is like and ensure that we’ve got some bulky organic material to help root development. The trees that were planted were 1 year whips which are quite small, but cheaper than more mature trees. No mycorrhizae was added when the trees were planted.
Maintenance of the trees in the orchard has been handled by the volunteer members of the association, although they did get a professional in to demonstrate pruning techniques at the end of the first year. The area around each tree was cut down and weed killer applied to the grass (though mulching may be an organic alternative). The parish council cover mowing the play area and a ride up through the orchard, although the orchard area itself is only mown twice a year (Spring and Autumn) to allow the grass between the trees to grow into a meadow to aid biodiversity.
The community orchard was just the first phase of the management of the site – subsequent phases have involved the addition of a play area and seating around the site. The association was made into a proper charity as that made it easier to apply for grants for the equipment required and also allowed Gift Aid to be claimed on the £25 tree sponsorships. Becoming a charity was a hard job for the association but has proved valuable. The association/charity don’t have to worry about public liability as this is also covered by the parish council.
The visit provided some great information about how a community orchard scheme can be set up and run. The association may also play host to the TL apple press. If you are interested in getting involved in a similar scheme in Loughborough, either by being part of the group planning and maintaining the orchard or by sponsoring a tree, please come along to one of our meetings or let us know by email.