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The Kent Downs is the finest landscape in the Garden of England; the character and qualities of this landscape are in part defined by the connection with farming and -landscape heritage. There is an inextricable link between the landscape and communities and our orchards.
In this innovative and incredibly successful project we are supporting 15 communities to care for and manage their traditional orchards.
The Orchards for Everyone project plays precisely to some of the key priorities of the 25 Year Environment Plan; in particular it supports thriving plants and wildlife ; traditional orchards are a much threatened habitat and contain a rich genetic diversity of fruit varieties as well as an extraordinary biodiversity associated with an increasingly rare habitat.
Also supporting the 25YEP is the conservation of the particular beauty and heritage attached to traditional orchards which much valued by people. Not many have the opportunity to encounter and enjoy this beauty; the Orchards for Everyone project, as its title describes is all about engagement with this this wonderful part of the natural environment.
The Orchards for Everyone project is all about working with communities to empower them to conserve and enhance their very own traditional community orchards.
This project has supported 13 established traditional orchards, predominantly parish council owned which have become community orchards with the planting of two new community orchards with traditional features. The heritage of these orchards tells the story of their importanceand has been a fantastic opportunity to involve orchard communities and stimulate those nostalgic memories of years gone by. This has created a footplate for villagers to celebrate their heritage, to volunteer and collaborate in surveys and educational events and establish good management practices in their traditional orchards’.
Through social media, memories have been recorded and maps discovered, photographs gleaned from boxes hidden in attics and impromptu conversations have revealed the history of the traditional orchards local to the various villages.
The project works by providing the support community’ need driven by their requests and requirements, this includes; expertise, training, practical support, providing tools and equipment, providing capital investment in fences, new trees, supporting the Kent network of Countryside Management Partnerships to ‘up skill’ their orchard conservation knowledge, taking forward wildlife and heritage surveys, introducing the arts through sculpture, story telling and drama.
The communities have been trained to manage their orchard sustainably for the future through surveying, planting, pruning, grafting, varietal identification and wildflower meadow establishment
A holistic education pack has been developed with schools participating in varying activities from the whole school acting out the fruit history of their village, singing to crowds in local supermarkets and building their bee hotel for the community orchard.
The figures (below) are impressive, more impressive is the passion and commitment of Pippa the project lead and the Orchard communities who are really planning a positive future for their places.
The Kent Orchards for Everyone project is a short programme funded by HLF, it is already recognised by HLF as presenting best practice and is forming part of a strengthening network of community orchards across the country.
Part of the legacy of the Orchards for Everyone project is planned to be the creation of an Orchards Trust, a new organisation which will continue to provide support for the conservation and enhancement of our vital traditional orchards resource.
The Orchards for Everyone project has provided training opportunities for both the communities involved in caring for their orchards and for a network of organisations which support countryside management in Kent – this approach is intended to provide resilience to the work and a strong , enduring legacy for the project.
With a greater understanding of the traditional orchards importance in the landscape, the communities have restored and conserved all of the features of their community orchard enhancing this iconic beauty which is part of the Kent Downs AONB landscape.
Celebrations have connected people with the environment to improve health and wellbeing by enjoying sitting in the jewel of a cherry orchard dripping with fruit devouring the most delicious cherries of a traditional variety. Or relaxing on a yoga mat taking up those gentle positions surrounded by the beauty of these antiques, the traditional orchard trees.
With blossom celebrations such as ‘Hanami’, tasting various recipes using the fruit from the orchard, pressing apples at ‘Apple Fests’ and drinking it straight away, there is nothing better for health and well-being. Selling apple juice from the orchards and delivering fruit to the local restaurant to be tried for different recipes, this has involved so many people within the communities, all interested in a different aspect of the project and has allowed us to access new, non traditional audiences, encouraging and engaging them in the future of their orchard in the Kent Downs AONB Landscape.
“Kent Orchards for Everyone has surpassed all expectations of interest in all the aspects beholden to community orchards empowering communties to join togetherand create a further 6 new community orchards in both towns and villages.“
Key search words: Kent, Orchards, Heritage, Education, Training, Traditional
Photo Credits: Cherry Day 2017, Making the bee hotel, May Day hat competition, Pruning demonstration – Kent Orchards