Ambitious Swaffham orchard project takes root

The first of a planned 2,000 fruit trees have been planted in Swaffham as an ambitious project to create a community orchard takes root.

Volunteers began clearing the redundant railway near the Orford Road recreation field in October, with the aim of transforming the overgrown strip of land for the benefit of the town.

The long-term goal is to plant 2,000 trees, grow exotic fruits like limes and kiwis under polytunnels, create cycle and walking networks, and host apple days and festivals – all run as a social enterprise with profits reinvested.

Following the mammoth community effort to clear the site, the social ethos of the scheme was confirmed as local schoolchildren were invited to help plant the first 12 trees this weekend.

More than 100 people joined a 'lunar planting' event under a full moon on Friday evening, which also featured folk music and candle-lit poetry recitals.

Mark Keddie, who came up the idea for the orchard last year, said: 'It is all about the community. We want to hold festivals and harvests and everything that goes with running an orchard. Then there's the benefits to biodiversity and wildlife.'

The plantings are a mixture of heritage trees and traditional East Anglian varieties supplied by the East of England Apples and Orchards Project.

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Work at the orchard site – which is about the length of ten football pitches – has been helped by a grant of almost �10,000 from Big Lottery Fund. As many as 65 people have pitched in at weekends, helped by volunteers from the Norfolk and Suffolk probation service.

'Because of the bad weather in winter we lost about a month's work and we were desperately seeking extra help,' said Mr Keddie. 'I don't know where we would have been without the assistance of the probation service.'

For more information, or to volunteer, call Mr Keddie on 07919 492241 or email swaefasswale@hotmail.com.