See below for three things you can do today!
JM: When did you first get involved with the Bisley community orchard?
LG: Bisley’s Zero Waste Week events in 2009 included a walk on the Bisley (Chestergate) allotments with Dave Kaspar of Day’s Orchard to explore Bisley having a community orchard. Lyn Hemming, who was then Bisley’s Tree Warden and who died tragically young in 2013, was the project pioneer. The local charity that owned the allotment land gave permission and enthusiastic volunteers planted 17 different Gloucestershire indigenous apple and pear varieties in 2011.
Many of the volunteers were allotment holders and we are all passionate about local food growing. One particularly helpful orchard supporter worked for the Woodland Trust. Our aims are shared by all community orchards – addressing damage to the environment and to people caused by food miles and the pesticides used on commercial fruit, and benefitting biodiversity through organic growing, blossoms for pollinating insects, giving a space for wildlife, and preserving heritage fruit varieties.
The mix of orchard fruit varieties now includes a donated French Greengage from Bisley’s twinning village, a few trees in memory of local people, and some plums and damsons.
JM: Can you tell us more about your work and the other things you do?
LG: I am an art consultant, working in the public sector on art in health, in schools, and environmental arts projects, and being free-lance, have always given time to local volunteering. I am a member of Garden Organic (HDRA), I have had allotments since being at university and did the first permaculture course in Whiteway in the early 1990’s. I am a Bisley Parish Councillor, and have worked on ensuring that Parish owned and maintained land is managed without pesticides.
JM: What sort of events happen at the orchard?
LG: There is a committed group of volunteers who gather twice a year – in spring in a ‘mini-wassail’ to “waken up” the trees and sing our Bisley Orchard song – and in the autumn to celebrate the harvest. On both occasions we all bring tools to weed, prune and mulch the trees (with compost from Bisley Community Composting scheme.) The orchard hosts school workshops – the primary school planted wildflower seeds one year, and our secondary school has helped plant trees, and built hedgehog boxes.
The apple and pear crops improve year by year, but we haven’t yet ventured into cider making. A few villagers pick the fruit for jam making, we get some fruit bottled by Day’s Orchard, and we give fruit away free at the village fetes, plus they add to our Allotment donations to the Stroud Food Bank.
JM: How does the orchard help with wildlife and biodiversity?
LG: Traditional orchards are hot spots for biodiversity but even newer orchards like ours, with a combination of fruit trees, blossom, the grassland floor, hedgerow boundaries and scrub, fallen and standing deadwood offer a mosaic of different habitats, upon which many birds, butterflies, beetles and mammals depend. This year a Moth Survey found many species including one rare moth (the Bordered Sallow). And you may be surprised by what can suddenly appear – five years ago some orchids emerged, and now the whole site is full of Early Purple, Common Spotted and (occasionally) bee orchids.
In 2012 we got a “Jubilee” pack of edible hedgerow plants from the Woodland Trust. This hedge of nuts and berries – hazel, elder, rosehips, hawthorns, rowan, sloe – encloses the orchard and is quite wonderful now, attracting farmland birds.
|Three Things You Can Do Today|
1. Plant a fruit tree!
2. If you don’t have a garden check out local allotments, plant on a spare bit of gruffy land, persuade the council to have a community orchard in new housing or development schemes, persuade your parish or town council to ban pesticides on their land, always buy local, or join a local community orchard group for free fruit and community spirit (maybe cider!)
3. Visit Stroud’s largest “Community” orchard that few know about – the Linear Orchard along the Ebley bypass cyclepath. Planted a decade ago by an innovative County Council Landscape architect it has many Gloucestershire indigenous varieties including the wonderful Ashmeads Kernel – Gloucestershire’s most delicious apple.
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