In their own words, this is what the magnificent London Orchard Project is all about…

Planting New Community Orchards

New community orchards in London’s unused spaces help address the city’s allotment shortfall promote community production and ownership of fruit, and help us rediscover the pleasures of eating fruit grown close to home. Community orchards also green the urban environment and create habitats for wildlife.

Fruit trees are well suited to the urban environment as they can be trained or grown on dwarfing rootstocks to fit into small spaces. Once the trees settle in, they require very little maintenance compared to vegetables, making them perfect for the busy Londoner!

We are partnering with local authorities, residents’ associations, park user groups, schools and other community groups to help design, plant and maintain community orchards in London’s parks, housing estates, schools and universities.

We are also providing training to four orchard leaders per orchard, who are responsible for the care and harvest of the trees. The orchard leaders are volunteers, and have all attended our dedicated training day on fruit tree technical skills and leading a community orchard project. These leaders have also developed an orchard management plan for their respective orchard and are responsible for getting others involved in orchard maintenance and activities as ‘orchard carers’. We keep in regular touch with our orchard leaders to make sure all is going well with the trees.

As of March 2010, we have partnered with 12 community groups and planted 12 new community orchards in nine London boroughs, and are planning on planting more during the winter season of 2010-2011.

Some of our orchards are in public parks, so if you fancy seeing how the trees are getting along – and possibly even helping yourself to an apple – head to Green Gate Common in Haringey, Caledonian Park in Islington, Archbishop’s Park in Lambeth or Nursery Row Park in Southwark. Don’t tell all your mates though!

Mapping and Harvesting Existing Trees

We are identifying and mapping existing fruit trees, to make sure London’s fruit does not go to waste.  Fruit grown in the city tastes great in preserves, cakes and juices, as well as straight off the tree – so why not eat it, rather than watch it turn into waste?

Harvesting existing trees in the city gets fruit directly to inner urban areas, where it is desperately needed, as Londoners living in poorer areas are less likely to eat a healthy diet than Londoners living in wealthier areas. It also helps reduce our reliance on imported fruit – at the moment, 70% of apples eaten in the UK were imported. The situation is worse still for pears and plums.

We’re starting small and focusing on three target areas in East and South East London, working in partnership with three Transition Town groups over the spring and autumn of 2010. We’re identifying fruit trees in public spaces and back gardens, and the knowledge of where these are will remain with our partner groups. Other groups are working in other areas of London, or putting information online about tree location.

Rejuvenating Neglected Orchards

We are hoping in winter 2010 to work with a few organisations to rejuvenate existing, neglected orchards.

Rejuvenation and management of existing fruit trees is urgently needed. According to The National Trust, 60% of England’s traditional orchards have disappeared since the 1950s as a result of development pressures, conversion of land to other uses and small-scale producers suffering at the hands of the economics of fruit growing, which have ultimately led to the neglect of orchards. As a result of this orchard decline, many rare varieties of fruit – some unique to their localities – are under threat.

Our plan is to work with a partner organisation, a custodian of a neglected orchard. We will run a series of rejuvenation workshops in the orchard with our partner group over the course of winter 2010, developing the local skills needed to look after the fruit trees in the long-run – and providing an abundant future crop!