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A Blossoming Movement in Scotland

In a hall in Dunblane, around 100 people of all ages and backgrounds are gazing intently at a map of Kelso in the 1860s. Why? Well, dotted across the town are more than twenty red sections of varying sizes – and each one represents an orchard. The point being made is a simple one – orchards used to be at the heart of communities the length and breadth of the country. Fast forward 150 years and a growing number of people are intent on making that a reality once again.

Crispin Hayes of Orchard Revival is speaking eloquently about a new project to create a National Orchard Inventory for Scotland. It’s over 100 years since anything similar has been attempted. Today Crispin is looking for 350 volunteers to help produce the definitive survey of orchards across Scotland. It takes five fruit trees to make an orchard. Already there is good news – desk research has suggested around 1700 orchard sites may still exist.

Orchards have been found in 31 out of 32 local authority areas and he estimates there are 714 hectares of orchard in Scotland (Crispin is still searching for an orchard on wind swept Shetland!). South Lanarkshire has the largest number with 213 likely sites, with Fife next at 186. The work of the impressive Forth Valley Orchards Project (180 orchards in 5 years) is an example of the wave of new orchards that will soon grace the National Inventory. So too will some of the ‘forgotten’ field scale orchards of the Clyde Valley. Hayes is passionate about ending the sixty years of neglect suffered by these traditional orchards and believes we are entering a critical phase if they are to be saved.

There is an incredible energy in the room in what is billed as Scotland’s most significant Orchard Gathering since 1885. The talk is of Scotland approaching a tipping point in the orcharding movement. We hear from individual groups setting up their own orchards, small commercial growers and from John Hancox of Scottish Orchards – a man who has probably planted more orchards than anyone else in the country!

This is no simple community get together either – this is serious stuff. Using an innovative group engagement technique called ‘World Café’ I quickly find myself ‘hosting’ a table. In less than an hour I’ve had inspiring conversations with 9 people on what the vision for orchards should be, the resources available to the movement, and the next steps to bring that vision to life. As host my job is to stay at the table and brief three newcomers on what my last group discussed before we go on to address the next question together. Then they are off again to find new groups – the technique is a kind of human knowledge pollination exercise – apt indeed!

The apple is Scotland’s favourite fruit and yet it can be so hard to find Scottish apples in the shops. It’s pretty clear that the people in the room are intent on changing that. Mike Small of the Fife Diet Project makes a powerful case for doing more with the network across the country – linking small community orchards together to pool their fruit and meet growing consumer demand for Scottish apple juice by taking a community approach to production.

The day’s formalities come to an end, but dinner, a play and ceilidh await the participants. Unfortunately I have to leave, but the Gathering gets me thinking – the orcharding movement in Scotland is broad, inclusive and motivated. And it is blossoming!

David Paterson is Head of Public Affairs & Corporate Responsibility for HEINEKEN UK. The Orchard Gathering took place on 7th November 2014 in Dunblane.

For more information:

A new facebook group – Orchard Collective Scotland – has been launched to keep the spirit of the Orchard Gathering going.  Other useful orcharding sites worth exploring:

 

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Why Orchards Orchards have played an important role in our communities for hundreds of years, providing a communal space for gatherings and celebrations. Find an Orchard Our ambition by 2017 is to help 100 communities to plant, care for and restore their own orchards. And to get things going, we're focusing on cities and towns in seven parts of the UK