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Colwall Orchard Group - The first decade

The time between Christmas and New Year can sometimes be a little bit boring. It can also be put to good use, like the time Colwall Orchard Group’s members came up with an idea for a wassail. With only a fortnight to organise, it was such a success its now a fixed part of village life. Helen Stace from the Orchard Group tells us more.  

The group began life in 2007 with only three members. We were set up to contribute to a national survey of noble chafer beetles and orchard, organised by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species. We discovered the village had 43 surviving orchards and that they weren’t in very good condition, so we decided to do something about it.

In our second year, we recruited more volunteers and trained them in how to manage orchard trees. We also started running events to encourage the rest of the village to enjoy and care about orchards. The first Blossom Picnic was really good fun, we made orchard themed batik artwork with the local primary school and of course there was the (by now almost legendary!) Colwall Wassail.

Our first Wassail was awesome. On the day itself, a storm was due to sweep in at 6pm, just as the event started. The heavens opened, but 100 intrepid people gathered at The Yew Tree inn on Colwall Green, so we carried on with the wassail regardless of the storm! 

Undoubtedly the next highlight was obtaining land on which to create our own orchard, with the challenges being finding the land and finding the funding. We found a field off Old Church Road, with an old Apple Packing Shed, but disappointingly, the promise of Lottery funding fell through.  Initially, we were quite despondent, then Tim said ‘Shall we see if people will lend us some money?’ We asked around and within three days nearly all the funding was in place. So, our success is a tribute to the village and shows the level of support we have enjoyed from local people.

Once we acquired the land, we had to fence it off and create new allotments, to rent to the Colwall Allotment Group. The orchard took four years to plant. There are 250 trees, plus 4 new hedges incorporating more fruit trees. Our volunteers planted the trees, but it was hard work - sometimes it was so wet, the holes we dug filled straight up with water. In places the ground was stony but we turned up some amazing finds, including part of an old plough and a stone tool from the middle Stone Age – the oldest human artefact ever found in Colwall.

Our orchard has every kind of fruit; as well as apples and pears, there are greengages, plums, mirabelles, mulberry, damsons, walnuts, hazelnuts, chestnuts and almond, reflecting the diversity of fruiting trees and bushes around Colwall.
Our next enterprise will be to restore the former orchard on our new land at Lugg’s Mill in Colwall. One part will be devoted to cherry trees and the other part to apples with which we can produce apple juice every autumn. Individual trees cost about £70 to buy and plant, so we are asking local people to help again by sponsoring a tree - if you’d like further information then please visit www.colwallorchardgroup.org