What We Do
We’ve planted and cared for over 430 community orchards across England and Scotland since starting out in 2009. In 2018-2019 alone, we planted and maintained 2200 fruit trees, including apples, pears, plums, plumcots, medlars and more!
Planting community orchards in under-used urban spaces helps to address our need for local greenspaces and connection with each other. By helping us rediscover the pleasures of eating organic fruit grown close to home, orchards allow communities to take some ownership of their local environment and forge a greater connection with food sources. In this era of climate crisis, planting trees with a high fruit or nut yield year after year builds our food security and community resilience.
Community orchards also contribute to increasing tree coverage, which cools the urban environment, absorbs excess rainfall and creates habitats for wildlife, increasing the city’s biodiversity. Fruit trees are well suited to urban environments because they can be trained or grown on dwarfing rootstocks to fit into small spaces.
Our commitment to championing orchards is rooted in building communities as well as supporting wildlife. Orchards can transform communities by bringing people together around a wholesome purpose. They are special places to meet neighbours and get active alongside new friends.
How we Plant Orchards: Our Model
We partner with local authorities, housing associations, transition initiatives, park user associations, schools, and other community groups to help design, plant, and maintain community orchards. We’ve worked with diverse groups from church congregations to refugees, focusing on areas with low access to green spaces and locally grown food, to help address issues of social inequality and hardship.
We collaborate with communities to re-imagine their local greenspace, engaging them in a co-design process for their orchard. Longevity is at the heart of our projects; getting the trees in the ground is just the start. We continue working with groups to make the orchards as sustainable as possible, offering training in seasonal orchard maintenance and pest / disease awareness. See our training section below for more information. This support ensures that community groups can grow and flourish alongside their orchards.
We support orchard groups in Greater Manchester, London, West Yorkshire, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Glasgow. You can locate and visit your nearest orchard. If you’d like support in starting a new orchard in one of the above regions, please contact us. If you live elsewhere, you can purchase our Orchard Design Kit or hire us for consultancy (see below). Or, sign up to our newsletter for orchard tips and news.
Traditional orchards have been disappearing from our landscapes at an alarming rate in recent decades. Around 60% of England’s traditional orchards have been destroyed since the 1950s as a result of urban development, fruit imports through our globalised economy and conversion of land for other usage. In London, this statistic reaches around 90%.
Since our inception, our mission has been to halt this decline and put orchards back on the map. We do this not only by planting new orchards, but also through the vital restoration of mature, or ‘veteran,’ orchards.
Our Restoration Work
We have extensive experience of restoring and saving veteran orchards, and also have a pool of external experts that we work with. Since 2010 we have been working in partnership with a number of local authorities and landowners to preserve orchards on their land. We carry out sympathetic and gradual restoration of veteran trees in order to prolong their lives
“We are delighted at the change in our old orchard since you helped us prune it in January. After not flowering for the last 3 years, it’s now in full blossom. It really has been given a whole new lease of life! [It was] a brilliant source of knowledge.”
– Lynsey, Dorich House, Kingston
From 2016 – 2019, we delivered an extensive, 3-year ‘Celebration of Orchards’ project, identifying and restoring 30 old and often neglected orchards in London. Funded by the National Lottery’s Heritage fund, this was the largest project ever to focus on recognising the capital’s rich orchard heritage and protecting it as a legacy for future generations. As part of this we had hundreds of fruit trees identified and labelled across London and identified some very rare apple varieties. We involved multiple age groups, from school children to retirees, and empowered them to care for, harvest, celebrate, and value their local orchards. As for the fruit, much of it went toward creating our community apple juice and craft cider enterprise.
The Celebration of Orchards project was shortlisted for ‘Best Heritage Project’ in the National Lottery Awards 2019 (reaching the top 10, among 750 projects). Read a poignant reflection on the hidden stories of these orchards here.
What are ‘Veteran Orchards’ and why should we value them?
Many of our veteran sites are effectively historical snapshots. Each one has a unique and interesting history, giving us an insight into the lives and traditions of previous fruit growers. They often contain rare varieties of fruit, which are part of our nation’s natural heritage.
Old orchards also have a particularly high biodiversity value: veteran fruit trees have features such as hollow trunks, rot holes, deeply cracked bark, dead wood and sap runs which provide ideal habitat for hundreds of species of invertebrates, birds, bats and fungi. Sadly, some of the species which inhabit orchards are now rare or endangered.
“We could not have tackled our orchard restoration project without the support and guidance of The Orchard Project. Their involvement made it all happen and their vision and technical expertise turned a difficult challenge into a resounding success. We now have a wonderful, rejuvenated, old orchard which can serve our community for many years to come.”
Peter, Bethlem Royal Hospital, Bromley
Orchards are classified as ‘Priority Habitats’ by Natural England and DEFRA, and they are included as such in the UK’s Biodiversity Action Plan. This is because they make ideal homes for thousands of species of flora and fauna. In fact, traditional orchards support an array of species identified as ‘Nationally Rare’ and ‘Nationally Scarce’, including lichens, fungi and beetles.
What better reason to squeeze more orchards into our urban landscapes?
Why are orchards such vital habitats?
Firstly, fruit trees are early senescent, meaning they reach ‘old age’ faster than many other tree species. For example, a 50-year old apple tree can have the same features as a 300-year old oak! These features – such as hollow trunks, rot holes, dead or decaying wood and sap runs – are vital for supporting over 400 species of saproxylic invertebrates that live on dead or decaying wood. Birds and bats also welcome hollow trunks and rot holes in which to make their nests.
Fruit trees blossom early in the year, providing an important food source for our pollinators at the end of winter. The deliberate spacing between trees also lets more sunlight in, which is welcome for flying insects, like butterflies, who need warmth to power their flight muscles.
How do we encourage more wildlife into orchards?
We’ve created acres of new urban habitats for wildlife in the last ten years through planting and restoring over 420 orchards in England and Scotland. Through our training workshops and courses, we encourage the community orchard groups we support to apply wildlife-friendly, organic methods of pest control and growth enhancement, and to adhere to a permaculture framework where possible.
In October 2019, we launched a project to increase biodiversity in some of the orchards we support in Edinburgh and Greater Manchester. Working closely with local orchard leaders and volunteers, we began by carrying out baseline surveys to discover which species were already living there. New features are now being added to these orchards, such as edible hedgerows, ponds, a stonewall for insects to live in, a bog garden, bird boxes, encouragement of fungal growth and Hügelkultur beds. We look forward to discovering how many new species have moved into these orchards over the coming years, and possibly then extending this work to other sites.
The role of Orchards in the Climate Emergency
Our focus on biodiversity is part of our wider response to the Climate Crisis. As the planet warms, ecosystems and the species within them struggle to adjust to habitat loss and food scarcity. The Orchard Project’s founding premise was in itself a response to climate change and issues of environmental sustainability. However, as the crisis worsens, we are striving to apply our expertise more than ever to this end.
As threats to food security, biodiversity and social cohesion look set to increase, we will continue to champion community orchards as a means for people to take tangible, positive and practical action, as well as working to ‘climate-proof’ community orchards as much as possible. Read about our Climate Crisis Response Strategy and download it here.
We work closely with communities and support them to make orchards as sustainable as possible. This means equipping orchard volunteers with the necessary skills to create the best conditions for tree growth and longevity.
Caring for an orchard is a continuous learning process, guided very much by each season’s requirements. For first time orchardists, the tasks of pruning, thinning and staking can seem a bit bewildering, but The Orchard Project’s expert team gives people the confidence to care for their trees and enjoy it.
What training do we offer?
- Orchard Leader Training:
We provide training to five ‘Orchard Leaders’ per orchard. These are volunteers, who take on responsibility for the care and harvest of the trees and orchard space. They have all attended our dedicated training day on technical orchard maintenance skills and on how to lead and engage others in a community orchard project. We keep in touch with our orchard leaders regularly to make sure the trees are healthy, and provide a follow-up visit six months after planting.
- Workshops for all:
Our general training workshops are open to everyone and often free! These are on specific skills, such as pruning, grafting, pests and disease awareness and even cider-making. Training workshops and volunteer sessions are usually one day, with some weekend-long courses for more in-depth learning. See our Events page for listings (but, remember, – these are seasonal, so keep checking this page throughout the year!).
- Orchard Mentor Training:
To spread our knowledge and expertise even further we have a team of Orchard Mentors in London, Leeds and Edinburgh. These are community volunteers who are willing to share their knowledge and experience of orchard maintenance with community orchard groups. Further information here.
- Certificate in Community Orcharding:
In 2017, we launched the UK’s first and only accredited course in managing community orchards: the Certificate in Community Orcharding (CICO). CICO has proved to be very popular! Currently only running in London, it’s a rigorous, level 3 course which produces competent and confident community orchardists. In addition, CICO is creating a community of passionate, qualified orchardists to join us in catalysing a national revival of the orchard tradition! Many graduates have gained employment in horticultural roles. See the CICO page for more information.
In 2018-19, we trained 2,483 people in orchard management to lead their community orchard groups. Feedback from attendees:
Thanks for a great pruning class! I was impressed with your knowledge of the subject and the way you organised the class. It was much more hands on than previous pruning classes I’ve taken, and the hands on part is essential for learning.”
“It was the most instructive and useful day, as well as being a lot of fun. Really well run and informative.”
“Jo’s knowledge always astounds me every week. Her teaching style weaves in different ways of teaching: facilitation is amazing.”
In an age of increasing social isolation and societal division, community orchards are wonderful spaces for bringing people together around a common, positive purpose. Orchards are cherished natural areas that give sustenance to people as well as wildlife. Since our founding over ten years ago, we’ve witnessed the transformational potential of orchards in creating and uniting communities.
At The Orchard Project, our focus and motivation lie in the joy of seeing people enjoy these beautiful spaces, connect to nature and collaborate with their neighbours in improving their local area. In this time of climate emergency, when many of us feel disempowered and overwhelmed, we’ve also seen how urban community orchards become a tangible way for people to take positive, practical, local action on food sovereignty, tree coverage and biodiversity loss.
Our projects celebrate these spaces and unite local communities in valuing and utilising them. We do this through orchard events like Apple Days, delivering training workshops and volunteer days, and through our cider and juice enterprise (more info below).
We hold regular events to engage, inspire and celebrate orchards. In centuries gone by, orchards were valued as spaces for community gatherings. Some of the events we run echo these traditions, such as Wassails and blossom picnics, while others offer more contemporary ways to use orchards, such as film screenings, ‘orchard bathing’, bird call walks, storytelling events and art workshops. We also make sure to honour the fruit itself by holding Apple Day events during harvest season, with apple tasting, apple juicing, apple bobbing and lots of other fun family activities. Keep an eye on our Events page throughout the year for details.
These events help us protect the legacy of orchards for future generations to come, by building local pride and embedding them in the heart of communities. The orchard groups we support then go on to hold their own events, continuing to strengthen their local communities.
Creating Orchard Networks
As well as supporting individual orchard groups with their aims, we also create opportunities for groups to meet and learn from each other. Our city-wide Orchard Summit events, training courses and Community Orchard Award ceremonies are platforms for Orchard Leaders and affiliate volunteers to get together, arrange to visit other orchards and build momentum around their projects.
We recognise that sustainable orchards depend on the longevity of the community groups managing them. That’s why our Orchard Leader training covers community resilience, such as volunteer retention, group dynamics and community engagement. Our networking events also encourage groups to become independent. Gradually, we’ve built up urban orchard ‘ecosystems’ through these new networks and friendships!
Orchard Produce (…Cider, of course!)
In 2016, we opened the doors of our Community Cider Hub, a unique volunteer-powered press where our craft Local Fox Cider and London Apple Juice are produced. Our drinks are made purely from surplus, unwanted apples and pears from London’s parks, orchards and gardens that would otherwise go to waste. See our Drinks page for more information and opportunities to volunteer.
We’re passionate about supporting schools to plant and maintain orchards. We’ve witnessed the multiple benefits that campus orchards bring to the students in helping them to connect with nature and learn more about where their food comes from. As outdoor learning opportunities, orchards have more longevity than school allotments and other garden projects, as the students can watch their trees grow throughout the years that they are in attendance and enjoy their produce.
What We Offer
We can work with schools at any stage of their orchard journey from planning and designing, to planting, caring or restoring. We deliver outdoor lessons, assemblies and classroom sessions on orchard and fruit trees, as well as training teachers to use their outdoor spaces creatively for wildlife education.
During our orchard restoration project, we linked thirty schools with their local orchards, delivering lessons and giving follow up assembly talks engaging over 3000 children. Over the years, we’ve developed a number of Key Stage 2 lesson plans that deliver National Curriculum learning outcomes using fun, orchard-based activities.
In 2018-19, we inspired 1300 children through our activities and workshops at 14 different schools.
Get in touch
If your school is interested in working with us, please get in touch with Abby: email@example.com. We sometimes have funds that enable us to support schools to plant or plan an orchard. We also offer consultancy if a school is able to fund the cost themselves. We are happy to discuss how best to work with you – please see our ‘Consultancy’ section below for more details.
The Orchard Project offers a range of consultancy packages to support those wishing to develop a private orchard or learn about community orchards. As the only UK-wide charity dedicated to community orchards, we have developed a unique expertise in planting, maintaining and restoring urban orchards. Our knowledge has been harnessed over ten years, through planting over 400 community orchards and training thousands of community volunteers in how to care for them.
We are truly passionate about what we do and are committed to creating opportunities for community orchards to thrive in urban areas. We work in partnership with a range of organisations, from schools to local authorities, and minority groups to landowners, always sharing our expertise to support others.
Previous consultancy projects have included:
- Orchard restoration and maintenance
- Orchard surveys
- Orchard design
- A full orchard planting service, with community engagement if required
- Delivering community events in green spaces
- Advice on community-powered juicing / cider enterprises
- Running school workshops using our extensive resources (developed by a qualified teacher)
- Delivering high-level training in orchard management skills, covering a variety of topics.
Our clients include:
We can usually offer consultancy services outside of our regional hubs, so please do get in touch, wherever you are based. If you have any questions about our consultancy work, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org to tell us more about what you’d like to achieve.
Orchard Design Kit – Now Available
In addition, we offer an innovative, beautiful wooden orchard design kit. This product is unique to The Orchard Project and our own bespoke creation. This can be purchased alongside two hours of consultancy advice over the phone (or in person if you are nearby) for £350.
If you have any questions about our consultancy work, please contact email@example.com to tell us more about what you’d like to achieve.
The London Borough of Redbridge and Vision RCL
“We have been working closely with the Orchard Project since 2011, – restoring an old veteran orchard and planting new orchards, empowering our local community groups and improving the orchard management skills of our local volunteers and residents. The Orchard Project’s highly skilled, experienced, passionate and dedicated staff have made a huge difference, as a result of their work, we have been able to deliver significantly on the ground, raising the profile of orchards and local food growing. We look forward to continuing this exciting partnership into the future.”
Francis Castro, vision redbridge