The origins of GOT: Orchard loss and early initiatives[more pictures to be added]
Seventy-five per cent of Gloucestershire’s orchards have been lost in the past 50 years. Agricultural changes and lack of demand, foreign competition and finally the supermarket all aided the demise of many local orchards and varieties. Despite this decline, Gloucestershire still has areas where orchards form a strong traditional landscape character; the Berkeley Vale and Dymock area still contain a remarkable number of orchard trees with many local varieties.
The early 1990s saw an orchard revival. The Great Storm of 1987 led to a realisation that the remaining orchards were under great threat. Survey work carried out by Gloucestershire County Council’s landscape architects in 1991 led to a strategy to take action for landscape features under threat- and this included orchards. The ‘Restoring our Landscape’ grant scheme from 1992 resulted in over 3000 orchard trees being planted.
Local varieties and their conservation
Numerous local varieties were endangered and in many cases only one tree remained, with some Gloucestershire varieties apparently being lost forever. To stem this decline, local varieties have been located, identified, grafted or budded over the last few decades, many by Gloucester cattle/cheese farmer and county fruit expert Charles Martell. The now certified varieties have been budded on, to create a public bank of trees known as a Mother Tree Orchard for the county at Uckington, near Cheltenham (not open to the public), maintained by county arboriculturalist Alan Watson.
From this a museum apple orchard of all the known Gloucestershire apple varieties has now been planted at Brookthorpe, near Gloucester at the GOT Orchard & Rural Skills Centre where most of the orchard management training courses take place with Dave Kaspar and Helen Brent. Dave and Helen also run their organic and award-winning juice, cider and perry business and sell Gloucestershire varieties of fruit at Stroud and Bristol farmers markets, bringing full circle the marketing of local produce.
A Gloucestershire plum collection with Gloucestershire County Council and GOT is planned, mainly from Charles Martell’s existing Reference Prunus Collection at his Hunts Court Farm at Dymock.
Perry pear collections have been established by Charles Martell, Jim Chapman and others. Jim has built a Perry Pear Orchard Centre with Heritage Lottery Funding at Hartpury alongside his NCCPG collection of almost all known perry pears from the three counties of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire & Worcestershire (and beyond). He now runs accredited cider and perry courses with Peter Mitchell.
Orchard loss for agricultural improvement has now perhaps reduced, especially with public interest in old apple varieties, but loss of remaining remnant orchards through neglect continues to be a major problem. Farm shops and markets are helping re-establish a “taste’ revival, with local apple and plum selections. This is important as we need to have a market for traditional varieties other than home consumption. But perhaps the tide has begun to turn. Many heritage varieties of fruit tree have now been planted across Gloucestershire, in private collections, gardens, community green spaces, schools and farmland. Richard Fawcett’s vision for restoration of the landscape has begun!
The Orchard Group
GOT was founded in 2001 as the Gloucestershire Orchard Group (GOG), originally by Gloucestershire County Council (Anna Jones, Richard Fawcett and Alan Watson) and volunteers (Ann Smith, Dave Kaspar, Helen Brent-Smith, Juliet Bailey and Elaine Shears), with the benefit of Charles Martell’s research and scion wood. Heritage fruit trees were then sold by nurserymen Dave Kaspar and farmer Rob Watkins of Lodge Farm Trees and the range of varieties for sale on a range of rootstocks increases year on year.
Membership has reached about 200 with a rolling programme of training in pruning, grafting, budding and fruit identification, Apple Days, Plum and Pear Days, orchard walks and talks, Blossom Days, Communal Juicing and celebration of our orchard heritage. GOT was delighted to receive £20,000 in 2007 (dates?)for the development of the Orchard & Rural Skills Centre at Brookthorpe, near Gloucester (Gloucestershire Environmental Trust/Cory Environmental grant). A marketing website was launched in 2009 for the exchange of fruit and fruit-related produce, by Pete Smith and Heritage Lottery Funding through Hartpury Historic Land & Buildings Trust.
GOT also had strong links with the National Orchard Forum, a voluntary umbrella organization which included and shared best practice between other heritage orchard groups throughout the UK from 2002 to 2010.
The original GOG became a Trust in 2011, renaming itself as Gloucestershire Orchard Trust, a registered charity (1137917).
In 2015, through a combination of good fortune and extreme generosity on the part of our membership and others, GOT acquired two ancient traditional orchards at Longney, totalling 20 acres. This will become a wonderful community project, with assistance from the Heritage Lottery Funded Three Counties Traditional Orchard Project (TCTOP).
We continue in our outreach of training and education, through the two county Orchard Centres and at several shows, Apple, Pear & Plum Days, informing and advising hundreds of orchard enthusiasts, community groups and schools each year.
We work very closely with the National Perry Pear Centre/Hartpury Heritage Trust. We liaise with neighbouring and regional orchard groups; especially the Marcher Apple Network, Vale Landscape Heritage Trust (Worcestershire), TCTOP, Natural England (Countryside Stewardship) and Peoples Trust for Endangered Species (latter with orchard surveys).
GOT, in conjunction with Hartpury Heritage Trust and Heritage Lottery Funding, has published two books on local fruit varieties, both by Charles Martell and based on his extensive research and collections. These are Native Apples of Gloucestershire and Pears of Gloucestershire & Perry Pears of the Three Counties. A third volume on Plums will be published soon. We are involved with preserving ancient varieties as a genetic resource, helping the public to replant them and to thus restore the landscape.
GOT is run by a committee of mostly volunteers, who give much of their time to the group and answer hundreds of orchard-related enquiries each year. They are passionate about raising awareness of our unique county’s heritage and of restoring the landscape. Traditional orchards are host to up to 1800 varieties of fauna and flora and biodiversity is a vital part of GOT’s outreach, in our changing climate.
We can only continue our work with a flourishing membership. Your membership fee will help us to achieve our aims of conserving, promoting and celebrating traditional orchards in Gloucestershire, their important wildlife habitat and the cultural and historical aspects. By encouraging the use of the fruit and other orchard produce (through courses and our online orchard marketplace, for example), orchards are more likely to be retained for generations to enjoy.
GOT’s recent (2017) Mission Statement is available to read here.
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