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Community orchard and Grow Green Spaces projects take root in Stortford after Community Climate Gathering



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It’s spring and time to get growing. With ducklings on the river, birdsong in the air and vibrant new life bursting out all around us, it’s hard not to be inspired.

Community growing – people coming together to grow fruit, veg and flowers in shared spaces – captured people’s imaginations at the Community Climate Gathering held at Birchwood High School last November.

Two projects that emerged from that event are starting to take shape, with the help and support of Bishop’s Stortford Climate Group – and you too can get involved.

The site of the proposed community orchard at Northern Parkland, between St Michael's Mead and the Great Hadham Road
The site of the proposed community orchard at Northern Parkland, between St Michael's Mead and the Great Hadham Road

The first is a community orchard, a place to plant and grow fruit trees managed by, and for the enjoyment of, the local community.

Community orchards are special places which benefit the community, wildlife and planet: people come together to work alongside their neighbours, learn new skills and deepen their connection with nature; wildlife benefits from new habitats and enhanced biodiversity; and the planet benefits from increased tree cover, helping to absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen.

A group of dedicated local residents has formed the Bishop’s Stortford Community Orchard Group and been working to secure land for an orchard.

A flier for Sunday's (May 8) information meeting about plans for a community orchard at Northern Parkland, St Michael's Mead
A flier for Sunday's (May 8) information meeting about plans for a community orchard at Northern Parkland, St Michael's Mead

Two areas are under consideration: a small parcel of land in the Northern Parkland by Stockmen Field on St Michael’s Mead and a larger site owned by the town council at Jenkins Lane, off Hallingbury Road.

The Northern Parkland orchard would be home to around 30 trees, some benches, noticeboards and wildflowers, planted to attract birds, bees, butterflies and other insects. It will be cared for by local volunteers and provide a base for community activities. The plan is to get planting next winter.

Everyone is invited to come along to Stockmen Field on Sunday (May 8) at 2pm to meet others and share ideas for the project.

The Jenkins Lane site is just outside the southern border of Bishop’s Stortford, accessible by footpaths from the town, river valley and Beldams Lane. The land was bought by the town council in case it was needed for additional cemetery space, but the council is now more certain that the existing cemetery is big enough and at most it will need only a part of the Jenkins Lane site. It has already leased a corner of it to the Bishop’s Stortford Beekeepers

The site, which is currently scrubland, would be big enough for at least 100 fruit trees, with space for picnic tables and a shed.

The plan is to plant heritage and high-cropping fruit trees, including local apples suitable for juicing, cooking and eating, and some pears, plums, crab apples and cherries, quince and medlar for a variety of blossom and fruit.

With open views across the river valley and beyond, it will be a lovely space to spend time, although it will require significant work and resources to clear the land and construct fencing to protect the young trees from fallow deer.

A proposal for the orchard has been passed by the town council’s environment committee and is due to be considered by the finance and policy committee over the next few months. For more information, see the community orchard project page on the climate group website at bishopsstortfordclimategroup.org.

The second growing project taking shape is Grow Green Spaces Stortford.

Grow Green Spaces Stortford leader Wendy Gordon, standing far right, of Well Bean Gardening, with volunteers and the Canal & River Trust clearing a section of the River Stort towpath area. Picture: Melissa Page
Grow Green Spaces Stortford leader Wendy Gordon, standing far right, of Well Bean Gardening, with volunteers and the Canal & River Trust clearing a section of the River Stort towpath area. Picture: Melissa Page

Inspired by the ‘Incredible Edibles’ movement and led by the indefatigable Wendy Gordon, of Well Bean Gardening, this project aims to grow food and flowers in unloved spaces in Stortford to increase biodiversity in the town, making it a greener and better place to live.

Above all, it’s about building community, encouraging people to come together, to work, share, learn and to get to know each other through gardening.

First stop for the group is the towpath area in the town centre behind the Nuffield gym, Empire cinema and Ace of Lanes bowling alley. Working with the Canal & River Trust, they aim to increase biodiversity along the banks of the Stort and make it a more pleasant area for walkers and residents.

Last Saturday (April 30) saw the first working party made up of volunteers giving up a couple of hours of their time to start clearing the area. The plan is to work back to the bridge on Station Road and eventually plant some interesting native species.

Wendy Gordon, of Well Bean Gardening, with clear-up volunteers including Louise Tennekoon, left, and her son Sebastian. Picture: Melissa Page
Wendy Gordon, of Well Bean Gardening, with clear-up volunteers including Louise Tennekoon, left, and her son Sebastian. Picture: Melissa Page

This project is of increasing importance given the growing number of households in Stortford without access to a garden of their own. As one resident said on Saturday: "Thank you for doing this – this is our garden."

People passing on the towpath stopped to ask what was going on and some got stuck in right away.

Grow Green Spaces gives people a chance to get their hands dirty, to feel a sense of ownership in our shared green spaces and to meet their neighbours. It’s a reminder, in a busy world, of what our community can be.

The group will be running monthly work sessions, joining forces with Save our Stort, who run monthly litter picks along the river.

The next session will be Sunday May 15 at 11.30am. Meet by the river, behind Nuffield. Everyone is welcome. You don’t need any gardening knowledge or experience. Some tools are provided, though if you can take a spade, fork and gloves, along with some water, that would be a big help. Home-made cake will be on offer for all.

If you’d like to get involved, check out Grow Green Spaces Stortford’s Facebook page or email wendy@wellbeangardening.com to be put on the mailing list.

Grow Green Spaces volunteers, from left, Stephen Nicholson, David Gordon and Rowan Levy. Picture: Melissa Page
Grow Green Spaces volunteers, from left, Stephen Nicholson, David Gordon and Rowan Levy. Picture: Melissa Page
8-year-old Sebastian Tennekoon helping to clear the towpath area. Picture: Melissa Page
8-year-old Sebastian Tennekoon helping to clear the towpath area. Picture: Melissa Page
Sophie Catchpole clearing the riverbank. Picture: Melissa Page (56494276)
Sophie Catchpole clearing the riverbank. Picture: Melissa Page (56494276)
A robin overseeing the clear-up and worms. Picture: Melissa Page
A robin overseeing the clear-up and worms. Picture: Melissa Page
Grow Green Spaces Stortford leader Wendy Gordon, second from right, of Well Bean Gardening, with volunteers and the Canal & River Trust clearing a section of the River Stort towpath area. Picture: Melissa Page (56494274)
Grow Green Spaces Stortford leader Wendy Gordon, second from right, of Well Bean Gardening, with volunteers and the Canal & River Trust clearing a section of the River Stort towpath area. Picture: Melissa Page (56494274)


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