The Gwent Orchards Project (2010 - 2012)

Traditional OrchardApple tree blossom

Traditional orchards are wonderful places. Not only are they seeped in history, they also serve as havens for our wildlife too. Gwent Wildlife Trust has been exploring the orchards of Gwent for the past two years (2010 – 2012) as part of an exciting project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Countryside Council for Wales and the Wye Valley AONB Sustainable Development Fund. The project sought to engage with the communities of southeast Wales, to teach and enthuse them about orchards and the wildlife in them. Many new skills were learnt, such as how to tell your Worcester Pearmain from your Orange Pippin, how to prune fruit trees and how to manage mistletoe effectively for wildlife. Not only this but over 800 acres of orchard were surveyed by volunteers, leading to the creation of a Gwent-wide orchard database.

Traditional orchards at a glance

  • Must have 5 or more fruit trees, no more than 20m apart from crown edge to crown edge, which have been intentionally planted for food production
  • A UK Biodiversity Action Plant Priority Habitat since 2007
  • Managed traditionally (no chemical input, vigorous rootstocks, wide spacing, low intensity)
  • Havens for wildlife, important for history

 Definition of a traditional orchard

The definition and explanation below has been taken from of the Traditional Orchard Habitat Action Plan working document:

‘Traditional Orchards are defined, for priority habitat purposes, as groups of fruit and nut trees planted on vigorous rootstocks at low densities in permanent grassland; and managed in a low intensity way. Cobnut plats are also included... The minimum size of a Traditional Orchard is defined as five trees with crown edges less than 20m apart. However the potential biological and genetic interest of sites with fewer trees, such as relict orchards and individual trees within gardens, is noted.'

See the working HAP document here.

More information on the Project

The Gwent orchards project was a multifaceted project which looked at the cultural and biodiversity significance of orchards in Gwent. At the time the project started, there was no modern information about the state of our orchards in Gwent, so the Gwent Wildlife Trust, champions for wildlife in Gwent, devised the project to help fill this gap in our knowledge.

We have included details of the project here which may be of general interest but may also go to inform the development of further projects.

This project would not have been possible without our funders:

  • The Heritage Lottery Fund
  • The Countryside Council for Wales
  • The Wye Valley AONB Sustainable Development Fund

  

                                   

Project aims

  • To help people to learn about traditional orchards, their importance for wildlife, and their place in Gwent’s cultural and natural heritage
  • To encourage people to be actively involved conserving, managing and celebrating Gwent’s orchard heritage
  • To conserve traditional orchards, local fruit varieties and the BAP species associated with orchards, through the preservation of existing orchards, the creation of new ones and the production of a comprehensive orchard map for Gwent showing the area and condition of our traditional orchard heritage 

Project achievements 

Survey

A major part of the Gwent Orchards Project was to survey as many of the orchards in Gwent as possible. This was obviously a massive undertaking considering there was an estimated 300 hectares to survey across the counties.

740 potential orchard sites were surveyed in 2010-2012 by the Gwent Orchards Project, of which around 370 were confirmed as orchards. 350 of these are under traditional management which equals at least 161 hectares of traditional orchard in Gwent.

29 volunteers joined the project over its 2 year duration and it was only with their help that we managed to survey as many orchards as we did.

Most of the orchards in Gwent are found in Monmouthshire. This is not surprising given the strong history of fruit production in this region. Newport is the next most orchard rich county. Torfaen and Caerphilly seem to have a similar number of orchards though we managed to survey more in Torfaen than we did Caerphilly. Blaenau Gwent is by far the least orchard rich county in Gwent.

Despite our best efforts we did not manage to survey all potential orchard sites in Gwent. However, the work was taken over by PTES in 2012. This will result in a largely complete traditional orchard dataset, covering not just Gwent but all of Wales. More information about this can be found here.

Public engagement

Another hugely important part of the Gwent Orchards Project is the level of public engagement we achieved. Getting out there and talking to people is often the most effective way to spread the message about why traditional orchards are special and how to go about planting and maintaining them. We engaged with the public in the following ways:

Orchard forum

Two orchard forums was organised by the project during its two years. These events were designed to be a place where orchard owners and enthusiasts could meet and learn about orchards. The days consisted of presentations by experts and practical demonstrations. There was also a lunch provided which was the perfect time for people to network and discuss the days proceedings.

Talks

19 project presentations were given during the orchards project. The audience varied from school children to gardening clubs and history groups.  GWT can provide speakers for certain events, please see this page for details.

Training days

There is a massive thirst in Gwent for workshops to teach the skills to plant and maintain orchards. The Gwent Orchards Project managed to stretch its funds to allow for 10 training sessions in orchard management. The following topics were covered during the courses:

  1. Fruit tree winter pruning
  2. Fruit tree summer pruning
  3. Orchard planting
  4. Apple identification
  5. Mistletoe management
  6. Grafting
Site visits

The Gwent Orchard Project made it possible for GWT to give site visits for orchard owners or people wishing to plant orchards.  Several people and organisation took up this opportunity.  Bespoke advice could then be given to the land owners regarding their specific sites. 

Orchard plantings

The Gwent Orchard Project together with the Gwent Wildlife Trust has been directly responsible for the planting of five new orchards in Gwent. The project also visited and advised the preplanning for 20 additional orchards across Gwent. The five orchards planted by GWT and/or the project are:

  • Springdale Farm GWT reserve
  • Ty Mawr Convent GWT reserve
  • Magor Marsh GWT reserve
  • Two local Primary Schools