The Longney Orchards – Past, Present and Future…

From Our Chairman, Keith Turner

Welcome to GOT’s Longney Orchard Blog – with news and views about the riverside orchards we took on in 2015. This first entry explains the background – please scroll down, or follow the menu links, to see more recent posts. 

Gloucestershire Orchard Trust, after a year of fund-raising and negotiations, became the owner, in 2015, of nearly 18 acres of Severnside land, most of which contained either extant or remnant old orchards. We are very grateful for the generous donations from so many people towards the purchase of these very special orchards. The following is a short account of what makes them special.

Keith Turner leads visitors on the public right of way through the Longney Orchards
Keith Turner leads visitors on the public right of way through the Longney Orchards

Situated in the parish of Longney, 6 miles south of Gloucester, the most important parts of the acquisition were two ancient, but fully productive mixed orchards – Long Tyning and Bollow. Around 35 varieties of apples, perry pears and plums are represented.

Another run-down, but ancient, remnant orchard known as Middle Orchard, together with an adjacent field of old grassland, Lower Ground made up the rest of the purchase from a long established farming family.

That the orchards were very old was never in doubt from even casual examination of many of the time-battered trees. But a delve into past records has revealed just how ancient the site is – and how far back the links with its cultivation and orchard history goes.

Traditional orchards have been on the site and in this area for centuries.
Traditional orchards have been on the site and in this area for centuries.

Jim Chapman, a trustee of GOT and of the Hartpury Heritage Trust – and an avid local historian – provides this fascinating first insight into the past:

“The fields appear to date from the Romano-British reclamations of Severn salt-marshes associated with the colonia of Glevum (Gloucester). Former legionnaires retired to agricultural  “small-holdings”, so the use for orchards may well have originated from that time. By 1100, orchards had become such an integral part of the landscape, that William, a monk from Malmesbury Abbey commented:

“Here you may see the high wayes and common lanes clad with apple trees and peare trees, not set nor grafted by the industry of man’s hand, but growing naturally of their own accord”

The process of reclamation of the salt-marsh in the Longney/Elmore area is more fully discussed in the 1990 transcripts of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society. It would appear that a wall was constructed along the northern boundary of Long Tyning Orchard between the Severn and higher ground to the east (still largely evident today) over which a public footpath runs.

From this wall a bank ran to the south on the eastern side of Middle Orchard and Lower Ground, securing the land from inundation. To the west of that wall, the undefended salt-marsh continued to grow silt deposits, so that it is today approximately a metre above the fields to the east.

The clear traces of ridge-and-furrow in both Middle Orchard and Lower Ground show these fields were cultivated from an early date. The enclosure award (finally ending the strip cultivation) was not made until 1815. It was only in the 1960s that the present sea defences were constructed – at which time a protective wall was built protecting the Fish House from the raised bank.

There is evidence of ridge-and-furrow also in Long Tyning Orchard, but it is likely its origins are rather different – a feature that is frequently confused with the evidences of mediaeval ploughing. Tyning is a Saxon word that signifies a fenced field and is unlikely that the orchard was never the subject of strip cultivation.

Along the riverbank
Along the riverbank

There has been some debate whether the Roman reclamations were abandoned during the Dark Ages that followed the departure of the legions. Long Tyning would appear to be evidence albeit circumstantial, of continuance. The ridges were likely to have been formed when the orchard was planted, to raise trees above the wetter surrounding soils – a common practice in the 17th and 18th centuries, so not, unfortunately, evidence of a Saxon orchard!” (Jim Chapman)

Over the next couple of years our priority will be to introduce, through gentle management, various activities to rejuvenate the trees and under sward in Long Tyning and Bollow Orchards. High on our priorities will be to do this at the same time as protecting, or enhancing, their intrinsic high ecological value. Some of the trees must be getting on for 200 years old, others are much more recently planted. This will include sensitive pruning, fencing to enable sheep grazing and finding markets for the abundance of fruit from the orchards.

We will encourage local community groups to assist us. We will also repair a lovely 19 century field barn to use as a base for our work in the orchards. Another extremely interesting building sits atop the river bank – one of the last remaining Severn fish, or salmon, houses. It probably dates back to the mid/late-1700s and we are currently gathering its history prior to making plans for its restoration. Watch this space!

In the longer term, we are looking at ways of how the Longney Orchards can play as big a part as possible in the battle to save traditional orchards in Gloucestershire – and wider afield. We have received much interest from those wanting to establish, on the unplanted areas, secure stocks of endangered fruit varieties and their genetic material for future use. Collections of cider varieties, plums and rare culinary pears are examples. The next chapter in the long life of these orchards has just begun.

Keith Turner keith@redhouse.ip.uk.com
Chairman
Gloucestershire Orchard Trust

Progress report – July 2016

A July update on the Longney Orchards, based on Keith Turner’s words in our current newsletter, summarising activity in recent months

Long Tyning and Bollow Orchards
We are making good progress in our efforts to bring these wonderful orchards back into good condition. Thanks to Martin’s workshops and very good support from regular and new volunteers (and contributory resources via Karen and the Three Counties Traditional Orchard Project), many trees have been pruned, labelled, DNA sampled, freed of wire and checked over.

Blossom time at Longney.  Picture by Simon Greening
Blossom time at Longney. Picture by Simon Greening

Despite very variable weather, blossom was good and a fair crop looks on the cards. We have also pushed ahead with reorganising and re-siting the fences. In this we are fortunate to have access to the help and equipment of contractor Richard Dyer, our nearest neighbour from Peglass Cottage.

Following agreement with the Environment Agency, a new fenceline has been put in along the entire length of the Severn bank boundary with our orchards. This is one of the first outputs of the new 2016 Countryside Stewardship funded programme of works designed to help us bring back sensitive management to the orchards.

Keith leads GOT members around the Longney Orchards after the AGM, April 2016. Photo by Paul Bloomer
Keith leads GOT members around the Longney Orchards after the AGM, April 2016. Photo by Paul Bloomer

Later this summer, new fencing will be put up around both Long Tyning and Bollow, enabling us to bring in grazing sheep and so manage the under-tree sward more flexibly. Currently we can only top the grass from time to time.

Middle and Lower Orchards
As with Long Tyning and Bollow, a deal of activity has taken place since the start of the year. Following topping, and last year’s hay crop taken by Richard, the condition of the grassland has improved markedly, and further cuts will take place this year.

But the big story is the first plantings of the new apple, plum and cherry collection – now growing well in Lower Orchard. Planted by our Longney volunteers under supervision from Martin, this will eventually be one of the most important collections of local and regional varieties in the Three Counties – and wider afield.

Around 80 trees are in place and will be followed by many more, as well as extending into Middle Orchard in due course. Thanks to Jim for overseeing this major new GOT initiative.

Thanks
Thanks are due to the volunteer members who regularly answer the call for their time and effort! We could not have done so much in such a short time without them. Thank you all. And it almost goes without saying…we could always do with more help! If you could spare the time, please give Ann a call.

Early Spring Walkabout, April 2016

Some observations and pictures from Ann Smith

Photo by SAS.
Photo by SAS.

The trees in all the Longney Orchards have been tagged with numbered discs, photographed and mapped, thanks to the huge effort of Chairman Keith Turner, Adrian Turner and volunteers David Lindren and Alison Parfitt.

This is early pear blossom in Bollow Orchard on tree no. 181.

More on the numbering scheme in due course!

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New entrance gate at the Longney end

Access to the orchards by the general public is only on foot via public footpaths running through the site.  We now have a new entrance gate close to the stile at the Longney end of Long Tyning.

The Severn Way
The Severn Way

The footpaths include the Severn Way, running along the river bank. The river margins have interesting reedbeds, pear trees, a black poplar with mistletoe and remnants of an old wharf by the fish house. All good habitat!.

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Little owl box on pear tree in Bollow Orchard

Little owls have been sighted in the orchards and we have had a little owl box installed on a pear tree in Bollow Orchard.  There is also one in Long Tyning.

We are collaborating with Gloucestershire Raptor Monitoring Group, as part of the national Little Owl Project.

We are very excited about this and keen to help. If you see any little owl activity around the boxes, please let us know info@gloucestershireorchardtrust.org.uk.

There is also a barn owl box in the cattle shed. Barn Owls are a protected species.

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Photo by Ann Smith

The zig-zag patterning on this apple or pear stump may show evidence of a ‘lightning worm’ or Hawthorn Jewel Beetle (Agrilus sinuatus).

The larvae of this rare beetle create characteristic zig-zag feeding galleries under the bark – now exposed to view. .

This is in Long Tyning Orchard.

 

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Photos by Hannah Loebl and AS

In Lower Orchard new heritage plum, damson and cherry orchard planting has now begun!

 

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Photos by Hannah Loebl and AS

 

These pictures show the new plantings, looking very small at the moment – and the new stakes being added – tree guards will follow soon.

 

IMG_20160403_115544.resizedAnd we now have new fencing along the River Severn thanks to Richard here.

Corporate Workshop, December 2015

IMG_20151203_144137.resizedWe ran our first Corporate workshop with EDF Energy at Longney Orchards on Thursday 3 December 2015.

Led by Martin Hayes & Ann Smith, seven EDF employees kindly gave up their day as part of EDF Energy’s “Helping Hands” scheme.  We spent the day pruning fruit trees and clearing brash.

Martin is weighed down with equipment!
Martin is weighed down with equipment!

Martin taught them a range of orcharding skills and health & safety was adhered to at all times. It was a wonderful day and the project is extremely grateful to them.

The team would like to visit again in the future and will certainly make a big difference to the progress of the orchards, with wildlife in mind.

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Scrumping the Longney Russet apples – well-deserved treat!

Thanks to funding from the Three Counties Traditional Orchard Project/Heritage Lottery Fund.

 

There are some more pictures below – click to enlarge them.

Longney Midsummer – first GOT pruning training day

By Alison Parfitt (GOT Volunteer) 22 June 2015

Longney Orchard 5We came from across the north of the county, from Tuffley and Tewkesbury, the Forest, Winchcombe and Cheltenham to Longney for our first Introductory Workshop or ‘pruning training’in the Long Tyning Orchard.

Longney Orchard 4Martin Hayes did a grand job of showing and encouraging us to get going. Already you can certainly see where we have been working. We all learnt a great deal, especially about how to rescue the neglected but lovely trees at Longney.

Longney Orchard 3As we waded through long waving grass, tree to tree, we talked of many aspects of the project. There are the practical aspects of what are we going to do with the huge mounds of prunings as well as keep the public footpath and ways through the trees and the views open and accessible. Then there is the potential of the fruit harvest. Sharing the fruit and relishing the different varieties, and even selling the fruit, could be an integral part of GOT’s development and care of this orchard.

Longney Orchard 2How about having a plum day, when we invite folk to join us, see us at work, celebrate the harvest and take home what you can carry! Ideas flowed about practice and purpose, connecting up different aspects of orchard appreciation. We need to give time to thinking through ideas we can deliver now and later.

Longney Orchard 1After a day of enjoyment and learning in this exceptional place of grand skies and its own enchantment, we left Longney saying that we look forward to getting together again, perhaps as a start of a larger group of volunteers looking after the orchards in various ways.

 

Tools and training kindly funded by the Three Counties Traditional Orchard Project and Heritage Lottery Fund.
To find out more or to become involved, please contact Ann Smith
info@gloucestershireorchardtrust.org.uk

More on the orchards…

Some observations and pictures from Ann Smith

Traditional orchards have been on this site and in this area for centuries.

The 18 acres in GOT ownership comprise the long narrow orchard (Long Tyning), Bollow, Middle Orchard (now only about 5 trees remain) and Lower Field (no trees but we intend planting collections of rare heritage varieties – watch this blog!). We also own the river bank.

The rootstock on this perry pear has grown up along with the original scionwood.

There are several Public Rights of Way (including the Severn Way). There is no vehicular access to the public.

Rare varieties of apple include Longney Russet and Elmore Pippin. There are cider varieties, perry pears and Marjorie Seedling plum.

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Our chairman Keith Turner discusses the ecological, historical, cultural and landscape value of the orchards.

The fruit has been extensively used in the past for juice, cider and perry. We shall be mapping the trees shortly and have uses planned.

Plenty left for our helpful volunteers plus the wildlife!

More pictures below – click to enlarge them.

Our Early Visits to Longney Orchards

DSCF1303Some pictures and captions from our initial visits to the orchards…

 

Click the images below to enlarge them.

GOT’s derelict Fish House

Fish house clad in ivy in background
The fish house is the structure clad in ivy in the background

 

Besides the old cattle shed in the orchards, we are thrilled to also own the old fish house on the bank of the River Severn.

 

Photo by Juliet Bailey
Part of the building. Photo by Juliet Bailey

 

It is completely derelict and, at present, we have no funds to restore it.

 

Interior!
Interior!

There is a fascinating insight in to the local fish houses on Newnham on Severn’s website