Planting fruit trees and looking after community orchards is one way of building commonweal. The community orchard movement is spreading rapidly as people connect to the often forgotten, neglected and secret orchards in their locality. One of the most moving, classic children’s book, The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, describes how two traumatised and lonely children, Mary and Colin, come back to life through looking after a secret, special garden, with the help of Dickon who is totally at home with nature.
The Orchard Project was brought to my attention by a friend Ella Hashemi, who has started working for them, and is fired up by the potential , not just for developing community orchards, but for community building. Her colleague, Stephanie writes that,
The Orchard Project believes that, ..” orchards in London are worth preserving because they connect people with their heritage and environment, act as oases of calm in a hectic city, promote health and wellbeing, are an attractive focus for engaging people and developing skills, and provide refuges for wildlife. If they are actively managed by community groups they are more protected from development threats, and more likely to thrive.
Today’s renewed interest in orchards in the urban environment may be traced to an upsurge in the environmental movement over the last 30 years or so. Common Ground, a charity founded in London in 1983, has promoted orchards and established Apple Day as an annual community event. As part of that movement, orchards are again being planted in London – no longer as private spaces but as community resources.
London is a mosaic of private and public land, housing developments, brownfield sites and green spaces, rivers and canals, roads and railways. The city’s orchards reflect that patchwork. They are tucked away behind school playgrounds and in pub beer gardens, or forgotten in overgrown woodland or the corners of parks. No part of London is wholly urban or rural, so even when orchards are situated in the heart of the city, surrounded by busy roads and buildings, such as Olden Gardens in Holloway or Ferry Boat Inn in Tottenham, they are close to the wildlife corridors of railway lines or canals.
Once a common sight within the landscape, orchards are now under threat, mainly because of land development pressure, neglect, a lack of skills and the absence of legal protection. Our old orchard trees are dying and they will soon be lost unless they are preserved through restoration and veteran tree management. London has already lost more than 98% of orchards since last century, and the conservation of the remaining orchards is a high priority. In recognition of this, orchards were made a priority habitat in the UK’s Biodiversity Action Plan.’
One concern however, is how securely Community Orchards are protected from development, from the land being sold off and privatised? How does the Orchard Project make sure that such orchards are held in trusteeship bodies that capture and protect the community value and benefits of such orchards in perpetuity as open spaces and commons?