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Community Orchard

Bossington from Combe Orchard

Clearing the site

Porlock has a community orchard! It all started back in March 2009, Jeff Cox met with Mike Ireland to discuss how Coombe Orchard could be turned into a community orchard, a good idea but with a lot of associated problems.

In mid April Jeff and Mike met with Brian Palmer, the tenant farmer on whose land Coombe Orchard lies, to discuss taking on his orchard for the village. Brian agreed and with the later agreement of the Blathwayt Estate the heavy work began.

Throughout the period May to September a team of volunteers attacked the undergrowth cutting back brambles, nettles, thistles and buddleias occasionally discovering apple trees that were totally overgrown. Eventually the team was able to turn their attention to the hedgerows on either side of the orchard trimming them back so that Brian could put a deer fence in place. Tree stumps, sawn timber, and brush wood have been left behind to build a sympathetic habitat for wildlife. Amazingly all of this was done by donation and goodwill plus around 180 hours of hard labour.

Help, support and funding

Although the core of volunteers has remained at 10, including Ben Wildig, Keith Ward, Gill Campbell and Malcolm Sage as well as those mentioned elsewhere in this article, the number who have helped or donated has grown.

Admin support has been given by The Visitor Centre. Benches are being made locally by Joe Westerdale and Paul Iles, trees have been donated by 4 supporters, wood, wood chippings and money have been given by individuals (Coombe Wood), as well as local organizations such as the Porlock Arts Festival, the Carnival Committee and the Porlock Parish Council Allotment Fund.

Early in June 2009 Denise Sage, Jeff and Mike met with the National Park to take the first steps towards obtaining a grant. The visit by their officers was very encouraging. The application put together by Alistair Campbell resulted in a grant of up to £1920 from Exmoor National Park Authority Sustainable Development Fund.

Rebuilding the orchard

Apple Picking in Combe OrchardIn December a morning course on renovating old trees took place. This proved to be very useful for the 5 volunteers who were able to attend and in following working sessions the whole team was able to prune all 22 trees. Further renovation work next winter will bring the trees into good order. In all 5 sessions with between 5 and 7 volunteers working 3 hour blocks proved to be enough. The purchase of new equipment in the form of loppers and saws were vital.

Of equal importance are bees. Phil and Georgina Langley attended a bee keeping course and the bees are now in.

Visits from orchard specialists emphasised the potential of the orchard There was room for at least a further 20 trees as well as the possibility of complimenting the existing hedgerows to create an edible hedge. With these thoughts in mind, over 3 sessions of work a further 19 trees have been planted. So the orchard now boasts plums, pears, a cherry and eating apples as well as the original 22 cookers.

Re-building the orchard has not, however, just rested on planting new trees it has also taken on the idea that traditional approaches will ensure that the biodiversity of the orchard is improved. Bird boxes and bat boxes have been installed and a greater range of wild flowers are returning.

Training and education

Acquiring knowledge and making contacts has proved to be another interesting feature of the project. Visits were made to South Molton Apple day, Carhampton Apple day and Charlton Orchards. Orchards Live training was undertaken, as well as Bee Keeping training and Grafting Training at Chumleigh. Denise and Margaret Wildig undertook a FWAG Orchard Management course at Doniford Farm and advice from Orchards Live has been very useful.

Community Events

In early September an Apple Tasting Evening took place which was followed on October 2nd by a Village Picking Day. The apples were stored at the Visitor Centre in readiness for Porlock Apple Day which took place on November 7th.

The day, which started at 9.00 and finished at 4.00, combined juicing, folk singing story telling, the sale of produce made from apples, a BBQ and cider tasting. Approximately 300 pints were pressed and £250 was made from sales. The event was held at the Visitor Centre and attracted a large number of people. In the region of 150 people attended at one stage or another. Earlier rehearsal sessions undertaken by Jeff and Alistair as well as long hours put in by the whole team and supporters ensured that the day was very successful.

The Future

There is more work to do in the orchard, the bracken and brambles have to be managed, an edible hedge planted and this year’s crop of fruit dealt with.

There will also be this year’s juicing day which we hope will be bigger and better. So keep your eyes and ears open, Porlock Community Orchard is now up and running


Porlock Community Orchard if you are interested, wish to support, or have questions contact:-

Robert Looney

Tel: (01643) 863108

Graeme Mills

Tel: (01643) 863409

Porlock Weir from Combe Orchard