Perhaps the most evident change at the orchard is the strong growth of the trees in the woodland area enhancing the autumn display of colour. The trees on Bumpy Drove are making progress despite their windswept position and attention from deer. The line of oaks planted along the Flatbridge Road, where Bumpy Drove ends, are also now standing out well.
Paul Knighton, chairperson of the WAG Social group, has been using his mower to establish a network of meandering pathways which has improved access and created the illusion of space in the woodland area. As the trees develop laterally it will be important to maintain access otherwise the area will become impenetrable as has happened to the millennium wood on the approach to Cottenham.
Fruit production was variable this year due to spring frosts and the natural fruiting cycles but yields are increasing. There was evidence of people picking fruit, which is what it is there for. Fruit from the four cider-only apples near the orchard board went into the Willingham Free Press (making apple juice) mix this year. The only replacement tree required is a crab apple within the bee enclosure which died inexplicably.
Melvyn and Brenda Smith organised planting of Yellow Rattle modules into the wild flower areas in the orchard in the spring to add to the species present. We will see how many have survived next spring. The basket willow patch is slowly establishing but replacement cuttings still have to be stuck into the ground filling gaps.
At the beginning of the year we were asked if we could supply funding to Willingham Primary School so they could buy bird boxes to place around the school premises – the school has a thriving nature group. We applied for and obtained £350 from SCDC Community Chest Fund which was enough for 11 boxes. We thank David Allen for organising this. In researching nesting boxes we were shocked to read of the rapid recent decline in the bird population in the UK so Graham Mumby and David McIntosh then sourced and put in place more boxes in and around the orchard.
Spurred on by this, we then embarked on a project to set up 2 barn owl nesting boxes plus one for a red kite. We were advised by the Raptor Foundation and the Gilbert family, who have several nesting boxes on the farm. Here our thanks go to Bruce Robjent for making the high class accommodation, to Ray Manning for acquiring three ex-telegraph poles and Edd Gilbert and his Dad for erecting the nesting boxes with squirrel guards attached to the poles, and also aerial assistance from David Mackintosh.
Winter Pruning Instruction – February 2018
As reported in an earlier article on the subject of the Community Orchard, many of the fruit trees have made appreciable growth, although some are yet to bear fruit. Although formative pruning has been carried out, perhaps best described as tentative pruning as it takes confidence to make a bold cut, Willingham Action Group (WAG) Enviro volunteers have been pleased to take up the offer of instruction from Ray Manning. Ray explained the basic choice between creating a more upright tree with a main leader and an open bowl shape encouraging outward spreading growth.
As the trees are planted on an 8m square grid, the latter has been chosen with a view to creating the appearance of a more traditional orchard.
Ray has kindly spent two Saturday mornings providing pruning instruction to WAG Enviro volunteer groups enabling us to undertake some pruning in between for his appraisal. What is second nature to Ray takes a leap of faith for those learning when removal of significant growth is required, especially as the label bears the sponsors name. Sponsors, rest assured the effect is instantly evident as a pleasing shape is created!
The accompanying photo shows Ray instructing the second group. The apples and pears have now had their winter prune with the stone fruits waiting for the growing season to reduce the risk of spreading disease. We appreciate the help received from Ray and his offer to be available to advise in the future.
WAG Enviro Group
Report from WAG Environment Group – January 2018
The fruit trees are now well established, 120 in all with 114 on the grid as illustrated on the Orchard Board. Trees on more vigorous root stocks are making appreciable growth, although some trees have yet to bear fruit. The original spiral guards have now been replaced with expandable mesh guards. We are grateful to Edward Gilbert who continues to cut the grass on a volunteer basis.
Bulb planting has been repeated for a second year, with the mixture of bulbs referred to below under a section on flora and fauna. The bulbs planted last winter, along with the wild flowers, gave a good seasonal display appreciated by those who are regular visitors to the orchard.
The woodland area is beginning to look like a woodland with excellent autumn colours on display this winter, and providing good cover for children to play hide and seek. The 25 native species planted are listed on the Woodland Board. Two picnic benches located in a circular area on the edge of the wood makes a great place to sit. The basket willow patch has been slow to establish but we look forward to the first woven item being produced.
The Bee Group has been successful in their management of the hives. The Group reported on an eventful year with both highs and lows. An early honey harvest yielded 109 jars for sale netting around £250 for reinvestment in the apiary. There is a growing membership of the group, now standing at 8, with varying levels of experience, and Steve Smith passed his Basic Assessment with credit during the summer. In July two Queens were lost from two of the three hives, these were quickly replaced, but with only one surviving two hives had to be combined at the end of the summer. The Queen problems, together with three weeks of poor weather in August, meant that the group did not extract any honey in late August, instead leaving the honey for consumption by the bees. Their winter store production was boosted by the warmer weather in September and early October.
Melvyn and Brenda Smith, WAG volunteers with an interest in wildlife, make regular visits to the orchard and contribute to the Willingham News. They have summarised below flora and fauna encountered in the Orchard:
Flora: wild English daffodil, English bluebells, snakes head fritillaries, wild/woodland garlic, round-headed garlic, wild/woodland tulip, primroses and cowslips, marsh-mallow, lady’s bedstraw, creeping bindweed, black knapweed, field scabious and meadow cranesbill plus several grass varieties. Plus, of course, all our planted native trees and bushes.
Fauna: Various species of grasshoppers, beetles and flies. Two species of damselfly and ruddy darter dragonfly. Butterflies – small copper, meadow brown, gatekeeper, small tortoiseshell, common blue, large white and small skipper plus silvery moth and other unidentified day-flying moths.
Bird species: barn owl, rook, crow, jackdaw and magpie, bullfinch, starling, robin, wren, dunnock and blackbird, blue and great tit and of course, woodpigeon.
Melvyn and Brenda try to visit the Orchard, at least twice each month but cannot hope to find, or see, all the species that are likely to visit or establish. Undoubtedly, more species will be found, particularly as the Orchard matures and it would be great if more villagers visited to add to our knowledge of this wonderful village asset. Why not take your children, not only to play (which is important!) but also to discover and learn? They’ll love it! Do let us know what you find.
Many photos of the Orchard can be viewed at https://julespix.smugmug.com/browse go to Galleries – Willingham Community Orchard. Feel free to submit your own photos for inclusion by sending to firstname.lastname@example.org
The Community Orchard, as the name suggests, is open to all. It was established in response to the Parish Plan Action Plan by providing more useable open space and WAG encourages residents to visit. Notice boards provide the background to its establishment as well as a guide to what trees are planted. The Orchard is maintained by WAG Environment Group volunteers so if you wish to have more information, wish to get involved or you have an interest in bee keeping then please contact us