About two thirds of Britain’s orchards have been lost since 1960. Devon, for example, has lost 90% of its orchards since the Second World War. Orchards are still grubbed up and replanted with cereals or ousted by new development from roads to housing, while many orchards simply fade with neglect. The loss of orchards is a loss of a quintessential part of our landscape and an abundance of cultural associations.
Of the 2,000 culinary and dessert apples, and hundreds more cider varieties, which have been grown in this country, only a few handfuls are widely known and used today. And yet thousands have been discovered or developed that are particular to different places and have assumed local names and uses. The hundreds of varieties of damsons, plums, cob nuts, cherries, pears are also rich in associations and potential.
Since 1988, we have done a great deal to research and promote this astonishing diversity, linking it to the conservation of old orchards, the planting of new ones and the local distinctiveness of places. We have given people the courage to keep on asking for variety and season in shops and restaurants. We have produced pamphlets, exhibitions, articles, and books to excite people into finding, growing and using local fruits.
In 1988 we commissioned James Ravilous to document orchards in the West Country. The resulting exhibition ‘Orchards: photographs of the West Country’, toured venues in the south-west and was then made available to hire. In 1993 we published the ‘Apple Map of Britain’, a beautiful full colour poster which charts the provenance of over 300 traditional apple varieties county by county, and in 1994 the Apple Broadcast, a one-off newspaper about saving old orchards, creating community orchards and organising your own Apple Day. In 1999 we updated the ‘Save our Orchards’ pamphlet giving the arguments for conserving old orchards and planting new ones and produced the Orchards Slide Pack, 20 colour slides showing orchards in different landscapes with ideas for celebrating Apple Day and examples of Community Orchards. In 2000 we published the Common Ground Book of Orchards, the result of more than a dozen years of campaigning, and a positive survival plan for orchards, and places, in which everyone can take part.
Because of these efforts, traditional orchards are now part of the DEFRA Countryside Stewardship grant system and old fruit trees can have tree preservation orders placed upon them. Cornwall, Somerset, Worcestershire and Kent are among the councils now giving grants and advice directly because of our work. Orchards and Wildlife, the report of our joint conference with English Nature in 1999, presents arguments for the ecological value of orchards.