Community Orchards

by Elizabeth Knowles

There used to be many orchards on farms all over Cornwall with a long tradition of local fruit growing and cider making. Many were lost to building developments or as a result of changes to farming practices after World War II. Now, there is a movement underway to bring more productive orchards back to life. New community orchards have been set up, alongside a number of local commercial fruit, juice, and cider producers. The Orchard Network UK lists Cornish orchards on their website. They include sites from the Tamar Valley to Kehelland, Newquay, Fowey, the Helford River, and St Ives; the National Trust has orchards at Cothele and Trelissick and there is even an orchard at Cornwall’s County Hall. Traditionally, the main fruits grown were apple (eating, juice, and cider), pear, plum (especially at Kea near Truro), medlar and quince; cherries were grown in the Tamar Valley. Some new orchards are now including bush fruits like currants, gooseberries, and blueberries.

There is a lively groundswell of interest in community farms and orchards, and to help and encourage these initiatives Resilient Orchards Cornwall (a Community Interest Company) was set up. Their aim is to provide advice, support and practical help as well as to diversify the fruits grown and to make sure plantings are resilient to the challenges we must now expect from what seems to be accelerating climate change. They also run workshops on pruning and maintenance work. Anyone who has a site or an orchard in need of restoration can get help, and trees are available free through the Forest for Cornwall programmes. Currently, a new Community Orchard is under development at the Trenoweth Estate, on the north side of Redruth.

The Community Orchard at St Ives is an excellent case study in what can be achieved by a strong community effort. On Penbeagle Hill above the town, 30 acres of open access land have been developed from a bracken and bramble wilderness into productive use.  There are fruit trees, fruit bushes, nuts, perennial vegetables, and bee hives.  There is a committee of management, a few paid staff, and a loyal band of volunteers. There is also a nature reserve with woods and wildflowers: a thousand native trees have been planted; mature well-managed hedgerows give shelter to part of the site. At the very top of the hill, there is heathland with granite tors and spectacular views of the sea.  The first hundred trees were planted in February 2013, most of them apples of known Cornwall and Devon varieties.  Later, pears, plums, cherries, figs, kiwi, and medlar were added, and berry bushes including currants, blueberries, raspberries, and gooseberries.

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Photo Credit: Skylar Zilka / Unsplash