One of the aims of the project was to develop an accredited traditional orchard training course.
Like many other orchard projects U.K wide, we found this very difficult to do, despite having several excellent horticulture and agricultural colleges in the Three Counties area. It just wasn’t economically viable to develop a small bespoke course.
Our solution was to partner with Garden Organic (formerly Henry Doubleday) to develop a programme modelled on their award winning Master Composter training.
Orchard enthusiasts were offered 5 days of free training by TCTOP experts, providing a thorough grounding in traditional orchard skills and knowledge, together with training on community activity by Garden Organic, in return for a pledge to carry out 30 hours of outreach work related to traditional orchards. A Garden Organic certificate was awarded to successful course participants and a prize was given for 30 hours of recorded voluntary work.
We offered training in pruning, fruit ID and ecology, together with sessions explaining the role of these orchards both past and present.
40 Orchard Champions were accepted onto the course – they came from all walks of life and most knew very little about traditional orchards. We asked them to ‘fly the flag’ for traditional orchards in whatever way best suited them, and set them a target of 30 hours of voluntary orchard work in a year.Our expectations were wildly exceeded – between them they have done over 2000 hours , an average of 61 hours each – amazing!
Our Orchard Champions have been out and about in the community, helping people to understand their traditional orchard heritage
They talked to over 9000 members of the public and wrote articles which reached out to 20,500 people. They also set up new orchard groups,gave advice to orchard owners, carried out surveys,made cider, juice and perry, supported community orchards, visited schools and manned countless stalls at shows and events.
And reported that they had made friends, got exercise, felt part of a very special network, drunk endless cups of tea and felt confident about being an orchard ambassador.
“The sense of comradeship and shared experience with the other OCs was amazing, as was all the training on offer. I got much more out of it than I thought I would and I think that I have been able to give more than I expected too.”
What next ?
Our Orchard Champions will help our work continue.
Although the project has ended the Orchard Champions are setting up their own informal network so that they can stay in touch with each other. That means that they can call on each other if in need of support and advice and hear about opportunities for training across the three counties.
And of course there are celebrations to be shared and plenty of cider and perry that may need testing !