West Midlands’ canal network to home the world’s longest community orchard

Waterways and wellbeing charity, Canal & River Trust, is working with the community to create a record-breaking orchard stretching 50 miles along the region’s canal network.

Made up of 3,000 trees, providing free fruit for people and wildlife, the community orchard will be the longest in the world. It will stretch from Wolverhampton to Worcester, passing through Birmingham along the Staffordshire & Worcestershire, Old Main Line, and Worcestershire & Birmingham canals.
Working with local community volunteers, for what is expected to be a ten-year project, the orchard will be planted with a wide variety of fruit trees such as cherry, plum, apple, and pear.

It will also plant rare historic varieties such as the Tettenhall Dick Pear which originates from the Black Country but was almost a completely lost variety, and exotic species such as peach, apricots, figs, persimmon, loquats, and pomegranates to take account of the warming climate.
The project has been partly paid for through a grant from Government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund but requires further funding as well as the support of volunteers to help propagate and grow the trees and plant them along the canals. Once planted the Canal & River Trust will need people to help care for the trees, to ensure they establish through the early years, produce fruit, and are used as a resource by the community. 
The city locations have already had species from around the world planted and the Trust has been gifted eight Kazakhstan apple trees – known as the mother from which all modern-day apples have derived from - from Alys Fowler, the well-known gardening writer and celebrity.
The trees will be planted at the back of the Trust’s towpaths and will be used to fill in gaps to re-establish hedgerows and used to create a series of pocket orchards on adjoining land of between 10 and 300 trees.
Fruit trees along canals isn’t a new idea – the original boat families of the Industrial Revolution harvested the fruit as they moved goods and materials to fuel the Industrial Revolution. And 200 years on, at the end of the summer, boaters and local people will be encouraged to have an urban fruit celebration day, help harvest the fruit and take home what they pick to create homemade locally grown treats. Paul Wilkinson, senior ecologist at Canal & River Trust, said:

“This is a really ambitious project along our canals across the West Midlands and I really hope people will join us in helping us to make this happen. We’re looking for help from local community champions and businesses to support this project with the tree planting and the aftercare to ensure the tress survive and are healthy.

"We also want people to tell where their favourite fruit trees already exists on the canal and why it’s so special. Once we know this information, we’ll pop out to see if it’s a rare heritage variety and, if it is, we’ll help save it by propagating it and planting it within the new community orchard.
“Creating a community orchard, which will be the longest in the world, will be such an amazing resource with local people being able to enjoy the spring blossom and scrump all sorts of healthy fruit through the summer.
“Research shows that being by water makes us all happier and healthier and once this orchard starts to mature our canals will have the added bonus of beautiful spring blossom on a huge scale boosting the bee population and bringing beauty of nature to people’s doorsteps.”
To volunteer and help create the world’s longest community orchard please visit canalrivertrust.org.uk.


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