Over the past two centuries Gloucestershire's canals have reflected the region's cider producing heritage, with fruit trees being a common part of the landscape. Now the towpath orchards that flourished in the days of early working boatmen are being replenished, with the new trees being planted at Parkend on Friday 22 March.
Volunteers will join staff from the Trust and local expert David Kaspar to correctly space the trees, which should live for more than 300 years. It is hoped that in the future it could become a site for budding scrumpers.
Laura Plenty, Canal & River Trust ecologist, said: “There has been a sharp decline in orchards across this region over the last five decades, which is such a shame given the strong cultural association they have with Gloucestershire. An example is Purton, with the village's name coming from an Olde English, pre-7th Century, word 'pere' meaning pear, and 'tun', an enclosure or orchard.
“The canal itself has historically been a haven, with small orchards sited at lock and bridge keepers' houses, which were planted and used as a free larder by generations of bargees. When the trees mature, we hope they will be enjoyed in just the same way by today's boaters and visitors.
“There is a growing movement to get orchards flourishing in Gloucestershire. We want to do our bit to support this and what better way than to restore some of the waterway's traditional fruit trees. We've put together a team of volunteers and local experts to get the planting under way, and I'd encourage anyone interested in helping us manage the trees and help with other orchards in the future to get in touch.”
Agricultural changes, lack of demand, foreign competition and supermarket policies have all caused the demise of local orchards and varieties of fruit trees.
Tree surveying, following the 1987 Great Storm, led to a realisation that remaining orchards were under great threat and local interest in them began to be rekindled. To stem this decline, local varieties have been located, identified, grafted or budded over the last 10 years. We hope to work alongside other groups in the region to continue this work.
Fruit trees have many advantages for the canal, they mature quickly, require little on-going management and support a wide range of wildlife, such as insects and bats.