Abandoned orchards in inner city Birmingham are being restored for the community, writes Kat Baldwyn.
It was the planting of a an apple tree on an overgrown, abandoned railway allotment in a Birmingham suburb which triggered the beginning of a project to restore the city’s forgotten orchards.
The tree planting at Cotteridge Park five years ago marked the beginning of the final stage in the transformation of a rough patch of neglected land into a real orchard for people to enjoy – a community orchard where residents and school children could go and learn about growing, cooking and eating good food.
Since then Birmingham Trees for Life (BTFL), which spearheaded the project, has restored three community orchards in the city, including one at Sutton Park, and is planning to restore many more.
Founder and project manager Sue Griffith explains: “Restoring orchards is one of our big projects and aims for the future. It involves planting apple trees in sheltered areas, usually in a park.
‘‘We are discovering a lot of old orchards and want to restore them by careful pruning to try and maintain Birmingham’s orchard heritage.”
Orchards were once widespread throughout Britain and in Birmingham, when the Bournville Estate was laid out by the Cadbury family in the 1900s, every garden was planted with fruit trees. But pressure on land and cheap fruit from abroad has caused the loss of many small orchards.
Trees in Birmingham are also under threat, with many planted more than a century ago diseased and in need of an extensive programme of replacement planting to provide woodlands for the future.
And that is where BTFL comes in. Launched in 2006, BTFL plants trees in parks across city to promote the vital role they play in the sustainability of towns and cities, raises money to enable more trees to be planted and encourages youngsters, residents and businesses to get involved.
The scheme is a partnership between The Birmingham Civic Society and Birmingham City Council and is run solely by part time members of staff, including Sue, a chartered town planner by trade, who came to Birmingham 30 years ago to study an environmental degree.
Sue, now a freelance environmental project manager, says: “I have always been passionate about the environment so when the opportunity to set up BTFL came along I couldn’t say ‘no’.
‘‘I set up BTFL because I believe we need more organisations to promote the importance of trees. We plant trees not only because it makes the area more attractive but because it is good for nature conservation. Trees matter. That’s what I believe and that is the message we aim to get across.”
In the 30 years Sue has lived in Birmingham she has seen not only changes in the environment but also changes in people’s attitudes.
She said: “People are more interested in the environment, but more than that they are increasingly interested in actively doing something to help. And that is where we come in.”
Each year BTFL plants about 4,000 trees in parks all over Birmingham with a landmark 10,000th, an alder, planted at Chinn Brook Meadows in Kings Heath a fortnight ago.
BTFL encourages school children to get involved with the process to learn how trees improve the quality of life for millions of people in urban areas and to see how the urban forest can contribute to sustainable city living.
Sue said: “Once we have decided where we are going to plant trees we get in touch with schools. So far around 2,500 children have been involved and have had a wonderful time.
"To decide where to plant trees we consult with friends of parks and with the council’s park manager to see where they are most needed. And if people think their local park needs more trees they can get in touch with us and let us know.”
BTFL is also hoping its bid to receive £100,000 as part of the Government’s national tree planting campaign is successful, which it will use to plant 5,000 trees a year for four years.
Sue said: “Launching the Big Tree Campaign shows the Government is committed to tree planting and concerned about Climate Change, something I am especially pleased about. It gives people a way of getting involved in improving the environment, which of course there are lots of ways to, but planting a tree is simple and effective and is what we want to encourage people to do.”