South Lanarkshire survey report maps future orchard revival in the historic fruit basket of Scotland and beyond

Written by Kaska Hempel, Orchard Revival, Orchard Animateur for National Orchard Inventory for Scotland, and Duncan Arthur, Clyde Valley Orchards Cooperative Limited (CVOC), Local Facilitator for National Orchard Inventory for Scotland (originally published on Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership website here)

A photo of apple blossom

As orchards across Scotland burst into spring blossom, we at Orchard Revival are rather bursting with excitement about the publication of the report on orchard surveys in South Lanarkshire.

We are excited because the report shows that the Historic Fruit Basket of Scotland in Clyde Valley remains Scotland’s biggest and most concentrated traditional orchard area despite significant decline since its heyday, and that there is much interest and a real potential for their revival.

But we are also excited because as the first in a local area report series for the National Orchard Inventory for Scotland, the report marks a milestone in our nationwide Scottish Natural Heritage-funded project which started in 2013.

With over half of Scottish traditional orchards surveyed to date, the project is well on the way to creating a comprehensive orchard inventory for the nation, first in over a century. We believe that knowing the location, condition and use of orchards on the ground will help address issues linked to the decline of traditional orchards over the last four decades and create a strong foundation for their revival Scotland-wide.

But the information itself has little chance of creating a sustainable orchard revival. For this you need local people and organisations with interest in and knowledge of local orchard heritage who will take action on the ground. In order to foster this, since 2015 Orchard Revival has collaboratively partnered with local group to carry fieldwork for orchard surveys and to receive a copy of their data. We want knowledge to be retained locally so that capacity is built and a sense of ownership and interest in local orchards is strongly established. Building on this idea, in addition to a national report, we are currently producing 12 local area reports is to make results relevant to local organisations and local people.

Our first report from South Lanarkshire is a result of collaboration between Orchard Revival and Clyde Valley Orchards Cooperative Limited (CVOC) with support from the Heritage Lottery funding through Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership (CAVLP). Both organisations have already been working towards restoring local orchard heritage.

Duncan Arthur, director of CVOC, took on Local Facilitator role to coordinate local volunteer team and managed to complete an impressive 215 site surveys in the area, amounting to 150 volunteer hours.

It was not all just hard work and Duncan’s volunteers enjoyed learning how to tell their pears from their plums and exploring the local Clyde Valley heritage. Here is a lovely story from one of them:

“[…] Always game for a new challenge I signed up to become a volunteer to survey fruit orchards in South Lanarkshire. I met up with Duncan, the local co-ordinator, who guided me through what was required and helped me know ‘my pears from my plums’ with a mini tutorial in his own orchard. Those damsons were so tasty!

[…] Now all my surveys have been done and I have hung up my hi-vis vest. Most of all I enjoyed hearing stories of how fruit farming in the Clyde Valley used to be: what went to the jam factories; how many there were of these in the area; were turnips really used; how the fruit once picked had to be taken same day to the train for 5pm to get transported to England overnight with no refrigerated storage like today. I loved exploring little roads around Nemphlar, Crossford and Braidwood, and hearing why one house was named ‘doon field’. These stories helped make my field trips interesting and I was reminded of the Linmill stories in Scots that my Dad used to love reading out to us. So I dug out his ex-library book (by Robert McLellan) and enjoyed rereading of the ‘Linmill fruit ferm hauf wey atween Kirkfieldank and Hazelbank’ where this wee lad spent his holidays with his ‘grannie and granfaither who bade in Linmill’.

Tales of another life. Our heritage!”

You can explore the results of all this hard work in the CAVLP online museum here, along with other items items on the rich local orchard heritage. Another 11 area reports and a national report will be released over the next few months via the Orchard Revival website here.

So – will all this data bring the local orchard revival in the South Lanarkshire that we’d all hoped for? Duncan certainly seems to think so:

“The opportunity to bring South Lanarkshire’s Orchard Survey “in house” has provided a wealth of information for Clyde Valley Orchards Cooperative Ltd. As well as identifying a host of potential orchard sites, it has allowed us to make contact with the owners of these sites and enter into a dialogue about the work we are doing in the area. As a direct result of the survey project we have opened up around 20 locations who are willing to allow their fruit to be used as part of our juicing operation which allows us to build funds for future planting projects.

In the longer term the outputs of the survey will also allow us to construct funding applications based on factual evidence, talk more knowledgeably to the wider community about their horticultural heritage and further engage volunteers for future orchard projects.”

It looks like Clyde Valley will be enjoying orchard blossom and its fruit long into the future!