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Community Orchards.

It is believed that the planting of our Orchards can be traced back to Roman times and they have been a feature of the English way of life ever since. Traditionally, they were mostly planted with Apple Trees, but also Pears, Cherries, Medlars and even Nuts. The Apples were used to make Cider on Farms that often formed part of Farm Workers wages. With the health risks attached to drinking water in the Middle Ages especially, drinking Cider while working was important to slake the workers thirst. Other drinks were made with the fruit though, including Perry that was made with Pears and this is now often called Pear Cider as the use of the Term “Perry,” went out of favour when production declined last century.

In more recent times, as we went through the 20th Century, many Orchards were grubbed up when Farms were mechanised, hedges ripped up and cheap imports started to come into the country. However, attitudes have been changing for some years now and the importance of Orchards is starting to be recognised. Not only are they important to Wildlife and BioDiversity, but they have a Social impact on communities. Also of course people are realising the importance of saving many of the old, traditional varieties of Fruit that may be important in future breeding projects to develop new varieties with disease and weather resistance.

The Government officially recognised these aspects of Orchards in 2007 and traditional orchards were designated as a priority habitat in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. They went on to issue an official guide on how to set up, establish and run community Orchards in 2011 and these actions have led to many Village Orchards being planted around the Country.

Both the Parish where I used to live, some 20 odd years ago, (Colwich,) and the Village where I have lived ever since, (Hixon,) have each, fairly recently, started to establish their own Community Orchards, but the first Community Orchard in the area that I am aware of was planted at the Staffordshire Wildlife’s Headquarters near Rugeley nearly 20 years ago.
The Wildlife Centre is actually within the Hamlet of Wolseley Bridge in Colwich, where I used to live with my mother and she used to love walking round the centre, when she was able. We knew of the Orchard and at the time you could pay for a tree and have it planted with a dedication to someone. The trees were chosen by the centre themselves as they wanted to plant local heritage Varieties that were slowly being lost to the nation. So, a couple of years after my father died in 2001 we had a tree planted in his memory. Then when my mother died some 4 years ago we had the memorial plaque amended and updated. I think that the Centre had to abandon the scheme though, because it proved too popular and they ran out of space, although the area has been maintained and is still a popular feature of the centre. Indeed for several years running they held a Wassailing Festival which is traditionally held on the Twelfth Night of Christmas to please the Spirits in the hopes of getting a good harvest of Apples in the coming season. The practice can be traced back to the 1400’s and involves singing, dancing - often Morris Dancing and drinking Ale or Cider mixed with Spices and Honey. It can be quite an event with a Wassailing Queen being crowned, Cider being poured on the tree roots and offerings placed in their branches.

More recently, there have been a couple more local schemes set up including the one in the Spring of 2020 when Hixon Parish Council planted 36 young fruit trees at the Village playing Fields. It was a very dry Spring, so they had to give them lots of water to get them settled in and they only lost one which was duly replaced. Wildflower seeds were then sown between the trees to encourage pollinating insects. The Pear, Plum and Apple trees are now starting to get established and fruit, and, as it is intended to be a community orchard, the fruit will be free for anyone to pick as long as people take only their fair share and don’t selfishly strip the trees.

The other local Community Orchard Scheme that I know of is in Great Haywood which is within Colwich Parish and is situated off Cliff Road in Great Haywood. The Orchard was laid out on some waste land that hadn’t been used for over 50 years and was first planted to commemorate the Sapphire Jubilee in 2017. So, it has been growing for a little longer than the one at Hixon, but the trees used were not as mature when planted. Some were donated by the residents of Cliff road itself and some from people in the adjoining Lichfield Drive, but also a number were donated by local Plant retailers Roseacre Nursery. The mixture of types and varieties are more diverse than those in Hixon, consisting of over 18 varieties of fruit trees and the Haywood Orchard now provides a lovely and welcoming amenity for local residents making a bright green feature out of what was an eyesore.
Looking at the Internet it seems that a lot more Villages are planting mini Orchards of one sort or another. Perhaps in future years we will go back to olden times when every village had its own orchards.


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