Everyone loves an orchard - like ancient woods or hedges, orchards lie at a fascinating interface of history and natural history; of nature and culture. Whether bright with blossom in spring or fruit laden in late summer, they have a strong aesthetic appeal.
Orchards East is a new initiative based at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, a collaborative venture with a range of partners across six counties of eastern England (Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire). The scheme is recording and researching old orchards, conserving existing examples and creating new ones, as well as providing people with practical skills (grafting, pruning etc) to ensure that orchards can be maintained in the future.
In Bedfordshire, Orchards East is working with the Bedfordshire and Luton Biodiversity Recording and Monitoring Centre, which has recently completed the creation of a digital map of all the orchards which existed in the county in the early 20th century, showing more than 2,000. Bedfordshire once had a thriving fruit-growing industry that embraced not only apples but other fruit, including ‘Aylesbury prunes’, a variety of cooking plum. Most of these orchards have since disappeared and, while new ones were planted in the twentieth century, many have since gone.
In Cambridgeshire, the environmental records centre CPERC based at the Wildlife Trust's Manor House, Cambourne, completed a three year survey of orchards. Orchards East is about the future, to establish new orchards for local communities, as well as researching old ones - volunteers are sought to help with surveys of old orchard sites and to explore their history. For more information contact project manager Rachel.Savage@uea.ac.uk.