Angus Orchards Project in Scotland flourishes

Angus' Orchards Project flourishes

Apple orchards are taking root all over Angus

Over 350 fruit trees have been planted in Angus since 2009, including many heritage varieties that had been lost in the region. Concerted efforts are now being made to nurture them into productive orchards, as Hannah Ewan learns

The Hood Supreme apple was once common in Scottish orchards, but when Fred Conacher, tree officer for Angus Council, tried to source it for a project to revitalise Angus’ fruit trees, he found it had become so rare it didn’t even feature on specialist websites.

In December 2009, the Angus Orchards Project kicked off with schoolchildren planting ten heritage fruit trees at Glamis Castle’s Yew Walk Orchard. By the time it finished in March 2012, Conacher had overseen the planting of 357 trees in 28 orchards across Angus, with 75 different groups involved from schools to social work departments.

Orchards are particularly well suited to school gardens, as John Hancox of Scottish Orchards explains. ‘The orchards are planted over the winter. They blossom in spring so can be integrated into lessons, and in autumn they fruit. The idea of kids planting trees is that they also get to harvest and look after them, gaining an interest in growing food that will last them all their lives.’

Conacher made a concerted effort to return varieties of apple to areas where they had once thrived, but found his biggest issue was sourcing nurseries. His lifeline was John Butterworth, who Conacher describes as the ‘godfather of the resurgence of Scottish orchards.’

‘Many of these varieties were teetering on the edge of existence,’ says Conacher, ‘and John made it his objective to preserve them. The best way he could do that was to build a nursery and distribute them out.’

Conacher is now producing a leaflet to advise those in charge of new orchards. His aim is to see these orchards mature, become productive and part of the community again. Those planted at the beginning of the project are already growing well and blossoming, and will soon produce fruit for locals young and old to enjoy.

Resetting the apple cart

Two of the apple varieties given new life by the Angus Orchards Project are Seaton House and Oslin. The former is a cooking apple developed in 1860, and now planted in the grounds of Seaton Grove retirement home on the outskirts of Arbroath. It was probably the handiwork of the Seaton House head gardener, after the Victorian fashion for landowners to give their name to an apple.

Oslin, or the Arbroath Pippin, is one of the oldest known Scottish varieties, and was introduced to the Cistercian monks’ extensive Arbroath Abbey orchards in the twelfth century. It is a sharply spiced eating apple, with shades of aniseed. After dying out in the area, it was reintroduced to the abbey in March 2009 by the Arbroath Abbey World Heritage Campaign.

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