An orchard in West Dorset has been restored using traditional fruit tree varieties.
Pitt Farm is a family run 46 hectare sheep and beef farm, situated near Whitchurch Canonicorum in West Dorset. The farmer has never participated in Countryside Stewardship schemes but previously has worked on biodiversity projects on the farm with Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT) and the Dorset AONB Partnership.
‘Occasional orchards’ are listed within the key characteristics and special qualities of this Landscape Character Area and historical maps from around 1900 show a half moon shaped field to have been planted as orchard in the early part of the 20th Century. Whilst not showing on any formal orchard inventory, the farmer and his sister, remembered the orchard in this location from their childhood, and believe the last fruit tree was removed from it in the 1960s. Since then, this field had a life as a community potato field, but had subsequently grassed over, and wasn’t floristically rich.
The farmer was keen to reinstate the orchard, and DWT were able to suggest a list of local apple varieties and a local suitable supplier. Discussion with the Protected Landscapes team confirmed that this scheme fitted with elements of all four Farming in Protected Landscapes themes.
- Farming in Protected Landscapes Grant awarded: £3,720.
- Other sources of funding: volunteer time, farmer time to prepare the ground, but no other cash funding.
The objective of this project was to reinstate the orchard in this 0.18 hectare field using traditional varieties. Such tree planting would contribute towards carbon storage within the Climate theme, and would restore lost orchard habitat and associated species as part of the Nature theme. Volunteers would help with the planting, which meant that the project would support volunteer activity that contributes to the conservation and enhancement of the landscape (People theme), and the character of the landscape would be reinforced (Place theme).
The farmer prepared the site using existing machinery, and ordered all of the materials and fruit trees. DWT then led a group of volunteers in January 2022 to assist in planting 30 trees, spaced out in rows for easy access for maintenance, and to install the tree guards. The trees were mainly apple varieties including the rarer Lord Lambourne, Warrier and Tom Putt, but also some pear, cherry and plums were included in the scheme. The Countryside Stewardship prescription for orchard tree planting was followed.
By reinstating this orchard, there is now increased habitat for wildlife and potential for carbon storage at the site, and a lost landscape feature of the area has been recovered. Conserving traditional orchards containing local varieties helps safeguard the future of historical varieties and enhances crop biodiversity. More people have been able to be involved in volunteering in the Protected Landscape.
An additional benefit of the project came about when Protected Landscapes staff put the farmer in touch with an estate in North Dorset which was rationalising their orchards. They were offering unwanted rootstock for sale at a very reasonable price, so the famer used his own funds to acquire another 20 healthy apple trees to extend the scheme to 50 new trees planted in total.
Sourcing rare varieties of fruit trees can take time, and do sell out quickly, so place orders as early as possible.
“We are all very excited to have the orchard back with many of the varieties we remember as children. Now we can’t wait for the first sign of blossom!”