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CAMBRIAN RAILWAYS ORCHARD PROJECT (CROP)

Oswestry, Shropshire, SY10 7JU

Location

Our one acre site is located between the railway line and Gobowen Road (B5069), an arterial route passing Oswestry’s Iron Age Hill Fort, and is accessible from the town on foot or bike where we work a regular weekly Friday morning session throughout the year.

Phase 1

Starting in November 2011, Phase 1 of the project was completed within the year, fulfilling several of our aims, namely:

  • building the foundations of a traditional orchard
  • working with local craftsmen eg. on fencing and hedge laying
  • planting half standard fruiting trees including local varieties (apple, pear, plum/gauge and cherry)
  • grafting fruit trees in the nearby nursery of local organic orchardist Tom Adams
  • maintaining direct linkage and contributing to the ‘green corridor’ of the railway
  • providing experience in the development of a sustainable and bio-diverse environment

Work started with litter and ground clearance, followed by felling of dead elm trees, chipping, green composting, herb and soft fruit planting and wildlife habitat building.

 

 

Phase 2

This began in January 2013 with redevelopment of the site entrance, completion of the shelter, planting 50 more apple trees as cordons, 15 cherry trees to be grown as fans, construction of a soft fruit nursery bed of blackcurrant, redcurrant and gooseberry and the planting of herbs. The number of established fruit trees is now 140.

A hive of British honey bees was established in Autumn 2013 by local beekeeper Richard Lewis who offers training in apiary techniques, and from which we extracted our first honey in September 2014. Another hive was added in 2015 by Pam Scott who has been taught by Richard. A shipping container for tool storage was provided by the Railway in May 2014.

Phase 3

This involves deciduous woodland tree planting to the south of the entrance area with a view to seasoning, coppicing and charcoal production.

Courses and Events

Courses have been run for hedge laying, hedge planting and also the grafting, planting and pruning of fruit trees. Training was also given during the building of a wooden shelter which now provides cover in all weathers and captures rainwater which runs into 5 thousand-litre tanks in case of drought. Wassailing has been held in the January of 2014-16 whilst June 2016 saw our first formal schools visit, followed by a guided evening Herb Walk in July.

Biodiversity

A biodiversity study of the site and neighbouring railway cutting was undertaken in August 2013 by the Shropshire Council Biodiversity Officer. Observations on wildflowers, birds, butterflies, bumble bees and fungi are recorded regularly by volunteers and submissions on observations have been made to the British Bumble Bee Conservation Trust (University of Stirling), the annual RSPB (January) and Big Butterfly (July) Counts, and in 2015 the BBC and Woodland Trust’s Springwatch programme.

Produce

2014 was the first time that a significant number of trees and bushes yielded fruit. This was given to the Food Bank and/or volunteers. In 2015 we also began to sell fruit locally to raise revenue to sustain the project and have also sold felled elm from the site for firewood.

Volunteers

Most adult volunteers have come to the project via the Qube volunteer scheme, other community support organisations eg. Enable and NACRO, Community Payback Scheme, with the remainder by word of mouth. Youth volunteers have come to CROP through County Training and New Century Court in Oswestry, and Brynmelyn and Amberleigh Residential Care groups. Several adult and youth volunteers have gone on to gainful employment elsewhere.

Record Keeping

Risk assessments and attendance sheets are routinely completed and a works diary is kept. To date, some 4500 hours of work have been undertaken by over 50 adults and 40 youth volunteers.

Finance

An ‘Awards for All’ HLF Grant of 10k was achieved in 2011 allowing us to start the project. Further small grants for the project have been awarded by the Naturesave Trust (2013) for the purchase of a mower, Shropshire Council with DEFRA and RHS (2014 and 2015) for the purchase of mulberry and nut trees, tools and publicity, Shropshire Towns and Rural Housing Community Chest Funding to build a compost toilet during 2015 and rabbit proof fencing in 2016 and the Woodland Trust (2017) for native trees to develop woodland area.

 

Recognition

Endorsement provided by the Oswestry and District Civic Society, who gave CROP the 2012 Mary Hignett Environment Award, and the Shropshire Wildlife Trust (Oswestry Branch). ‘Oswestry in Bloom’ gave CROP the Outstanding Work by Young Persons award in 2013, plus Best Community Project in both 2014 and 2015, a gold standard award in 2016. In 2015 we also received the Chairman’s Award for the Heart of England Britain in Bloom/RHS Scheme and were nominated as an Environmental Champion in the Shropshire Star Pride in Shropshire awards. CROP was central to Oswestry’s Apple Days held in the Market area in mid-October since 2013-16.

Andrew Tullo 07909 993029 - CHR, Ecology Co-ordinator

Updated: February 2017

Map of the Cambrian Railway Orchard Project (click to view larger version)

Orchard map

Updated: 16Jan2014

Betting on Hedges

Since 1950 half Britain’s hedges have been lost, with farmers even subsidised to bulldoze them out of existence.

Happily by the 1990s the value of this integral and essential part of our countryside, including some that are centuries old and with distinctive regional features, has been realised. Since 1997 it has been illegal to remove a hedge over 30 years old without planning permission.

 

Remarkably, around half a million miles of hedges contain 15% of our stock of native trees and are a haven for a myriad of wildflowers, invertebrates, birds and mammals. However, hedges which also provide for stock proofing, fodder, wind shelter and land demarcation, require active management.

Hedge laying (plashing) is particularly suited for tall outgrown hedges when stems are partially cut through at an angle near the base, bent over horizontally and woven between regularly placed stakes. This stimulates growth, re-establishes a barrier and improves the wildlife habitat. Replanting mainly with hawthorn and hazel is also necessary where there has been overgrowth by species of trees that cannot be readily be laid. These processes have been applied and can be readily now be seen close to town on the Gobowen Road by Old Oswestry where the Cambrian Heritage Railways is building a community orchard.

The video shows Allan Housman, local traditional hedge layer, and Tom Adams, local orchardist, at work on Oswestry’s community orchard site.

Hard Graft

As already mentioned, the Orchard does not only consist of Apple Trees. Other fruit, including soft-fruit varieties, will also be grown on the site. In this short video Tom Adams, a local Orchardist, describes grafting various Pear cuttings into a Hawthorn bush that was already on the Orchard site.