Comrie Community Orchard
Contact details:01764 670 769
A most impressive set up which has obviously benefitted from a lot of hard work by volunteers from the Comrie community.
What are the aims of your project?
The idea for a Community Orchard was first discussed in March 2009 during a visit to Cultybraggan Camp by Mike Strachan from the Forestry Commission (meeting with a member of the Community Development Trust (CDT) Board and CDT Carbon Challenge Officer). The original idea was to surround the camp itself with fruit trees. This idea was then discussed at the next Community Open Meeting and gained support from those present to progress. Planning took place between September 2009 until October 2010.
This project was to establish a two-acre Community Orchard at Cultybraggan Camp, the 90-acre ex-POW Camp that Comrie Development Trust purchased through the Land Reform (Scotland) Act Community Right-to-Buy legislation in 2007. At the outset it was envisaged that the Community Orchard would provide a space for the community to relax in and host outside activities - include the planting of over 200 fruit trees (apple, pear, cherry, damson, plum, medlar) and 2,500 edible hedge plants (with the potential for making products, for example, apple juice and jam), would enhance biodiversity, and contribute to the overall benefits that can be gained by working and relaxing in an outdoor environment.
The orchard is open and accessible for the enjoyment of everyone within the community and visitors to the camp. The orchard is managed on behalf of the village by the voluntary Orchard Working Group. The orchard provides an opportunity for shared activities to enable community members of different ages and backgrounds to come together enhancing social capital.
How did your project achieve these aims?
Ground preparation was undertaken by volunteers and a local contractor in January and February 2011 and the fruit trees and hedgerows were planted on a series of volunteer 'planting days' in March 2011 which involved members of the community of all ages. As well as opportunities to learn new skills it was envisaged that the work days at the orchard would help to build social capital within the community. The ongoing management of the orchard is coordinated through the Orchard Working Group made up of CDT Board Members and Trust Members.
The orchard itself is planted along the old assault course of Cultybraggan Camp, utilising walls, cages and sand pits that are no longer fit for purpose. This area includes cordons, espaliers and open areas. The main orchard area is at the northern end of the camp and is one large open area where the hen enclosure and Shepherd’s Hut are sited.
As well as securing funding from LEADER, the Trust was awarded funding from Awards for All, Perth & Kinross Council and a very generous donation from a couple with connections to the village. This enabled the Trust to purchase other items in addition to the trees, edible hedge and protection. This included picnic tables, tools, a deer grid for the entrance of Cultybraggan Camp, a hen enclosure, a Shepherd’s Hut with a wood burning stove, wildflower seeds for the Beetle Bank, fruit bushes, nine varieties of willow, an apple press and crusher for the annual Apple Day and for loan to other groups and communities.
The Community Orchard has been achieved by the hard work of dedicated volunteers with support from the Allotmenteers (located next to the Orchard at Cultybraggan Camp). More than 286 volunteers were involved between March 2010 and May 2012. This number is likely to have doubled since then as the Orchard Working Group runs monthly Orchard Work Days throughout the year, pruning and grafting courses for anyone to attend, and hosted five annual Apple Days which has attracted at least 400 people from the community itself and further afield.
Comrie Development Trust staff and Board Members have provided administrative and financial support and residents of the village have provided apples and trees for Apple Day and for pruning courses.
Where did you go for help and advice?
There is fortunately a number of very knowledgeable volunteers on the Orchard Working Group that have advised the Trust over the past five and a half years. In addition, when planning the Orchard, the Trust took advice from Andrew Lear (Apple Tree Man), Catherine Lloyd (Tayside Biodiversity Partnership) and a number of other local fruit growers, gardeners and nursery owners.
Where necessary, members of the Group have contacted the Royal Horticultural Society for advice and have visited a number of well-established and old orchards including Drummond Castle, Elcho Castle and Priorwood Garden, Melrose amongst others.
The Orchard Working Group also attends meetings of the Orchard Collective and receives e-bulletins for Nourish Scotland, Scottish Communities Climate Action Network and the Climate Challenge Fund which links communities across Scotland with similar projects.
What have you learnt?
Planning, planting and maintaining an orchard of more than 200 trees and 2,500 edible hedge plants takes a lot of volunteer hours. Maintenance needs to be undertaken whatever the weather and all year round. Having a solid base of volunteers and the ability to attract new Members is essential as the work will fall to a few dedicated people.
Year round maintenance requires ongoing funding and therefore continuous fundraising. These costs have generally been met through a small annual sum from the Trust, fundraising by volunteers (most recently selling apples, plums, damsons, jam and chutney at a ‘pop-up’ stall in the village square; and by volunteers being a ‘human fruit machine’ at the Comrie Fortnight street market), Apple Day activities and by the volunteers themselves.
The volunteer planting days and monthly Orchard Work Days work really well. However, this is complemented by additional work undertaken by members of the Orchard Working Group in their own time.
What has been your greatest achievement so far?
The Community Orchard has exceeded expectations in terms of the number of trees/plants that have survived. This is very much a result of the Members of the Orchard Working Group and the time and commitment they have given to making the Orchard a success.
The number of people attending the Annual Apple Day is also encouraging as is the support from the village in terms of apple donations for crushing and juicing.
The Orchard has regular visitors of all ages and people are particularly interested in the varieties of fruit that can be grown in the Comrie area of Perthshire.
The Shepherd’s Hut has proved to be popular with the Outdoor Playgroup that uses the main orchard area on Friday mornings and on cold, wintery Orchard Work Days!
And the biggest challenge?
The main challenge is in relation to the number of volunteers and the time that they commit to such a project along with finding the necessary funding for ongoing costs.
Finally, fending off rabbit and hare attack of the trees has proved to be quite problematic as has finding the most appropriate, long-lasting tree guards.
What's next for your project?
The Community Orchard is now almost five years old and becoming more productive. It has always been the ambition to make some Orchard related products to sell and therefore generate an income to cover the costs of the ongoing maintenance of the Orchard. These plans will be progressed over the next couple of years.