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