Clyde Valley Orchards are still the biggest and most concentrated in Scotland, survey reveals
National Orchard Inventory for Scotland South Lanarkshire survey completed
A comprehensive survey has revealed that the Clyde Valley remains Scotland’s biggest and most concentrated orchard area, with over 5000 plum, apple and damson trees.
Carried out between August 2016 and February 2017, the survey took place as part of the National Orchard Inventory for Scotland (NOIS). Field survey work was completed for 215 sites. 124 sites within the Clyde Valley totalling over 70 hectares were found to have an orchard present - the definition of an orchard being a collection of 5 or more fruit trees in proximity.
Although this survey indicates that the Clyde Valley orchards have suffered significant decline since their heyday as the ‘Fruit Basket of Scotland’ in the mid 20th Century, the project shows that the acreage of Clyde Valley orchards today may be greater than in the 1860s.
Members of the public are encouraged to explore the full results of the survey which have been consolidated in a public report including graphs which clearly display numerical data alongside photographs. Read the survey by clicking the link on the right, or the 'Clyde Valley Orchards mapped...' Museum item at the bottom of this article.
The survey identified that a significant amount of fruit is grown in the area, but also found that the majority of orchards are not used to their full potential as most have limited or no management. The results of the project show that family use, followed by giving the fruit away was the most common use of fruit. However, less than a quarter of orchards reported that they use the fruit a lot and nearly half use little or none. Nearly 20% of orchard owners report that fruit is ignored or left on the ground and, given the relatively large number of orchards in the Clyde Valley, this represents a significant opportunity locally.
Managed by Clyde Valley Orchards Cooperative Limited (CVOC), the project was facilitated by Crispin Hayes Associates with not-for-profit Orchard Revival as partners. It was funded by Heritage Lottery Fund supported Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership (CAVLP) and Scottish Natural Heritage.
Coordinated by Duncan Arthur, a director of CVOC, eight volunteers spent a total of 30 days, or 150 hours, carrying out field surveys. This fieldwork was necessary to verify each of the orchards assessed in the desktop study which was prepared by Crispin Hayes Associates with Orchard Revival. Armed with a kit comprising of a camera, measuring tape, survey form and letter of introduction, the volunteers visited each site to identify the size and condition of each orchard and take photos of its current state, before uploading their finds to the online database. They uncovered a further 22 orchards that had not been identified in the initial desktop study.
The project also recorded a huge wealth of anecdotes and comments from orchard owners in the Valley which added a lot of colour to the survey. Five of the orchard keepers in the area explicitly reported family ties to the fruit growing industry, going back up to two generations and some offered proud memories of its heyday in late 1800s to mid-to-late 1900s. They recalled that their family orchards were very productive, growing plums, apples, and damsons as well as under crops of berries for jam making in local factories or shipping fresh fruit to England. Picking plums in season was reportedly more profitable than working in mines, which gives a testimony to the economic importance of this industry in the area at the time.
The survey concludes that the Clyde Valley is still at the present time, the premier orchard area of Scotland. However given that there are some uncomfortable indicators of its former glory, this should provide a strong call to action. Clyde Valley orchard owners are encouraged to get in touch with Clyde Valley Orchards Cooperative Ltd (CVOC), who can provide management advice on activities such as pruning which helps ensure long-term survival of orchards. CVOC are also able to help pick unwanted fruit to be processed into Clyde Valley Orchard juice, with all proceeds going back into local orchards. Contact details for the Clyde Valley Orchards Cooperative can be found at the end of this article.
Ewan Bachell, CAVLP Development Officer says, “The report includes several key findings. Even though the current area of orchards is larger today than it was in the 1860s, 50 hectares have been lost or abandoned since the peak of the Clyde Valley Orchards in the mid 20th century. The largest orchard was found to contain over 300 plum trees, but overall, the area of single orchards have decreased, with most having less than 30 trees.”
He continues, “However, a contemporary revival in Clyde Valley orchards can be detected in the fact that whilst trees over 50 years in age dominate, over 40 of the 190 sites surveyed are made up of trees eight years and younger. It’s also been found that the Clyde Valley orchards are one of the few areas in Scotland where the growing of soft fruit undercrops remains widely practiced.”
Started in 2013, the National Orchard Inventory for Scotland (NOIS) project aims to create a comprehensive orchard inventory for the nation, forming a basis to address a number of issues linked to the decline of orchards over the last four decades and creating a strong foundation for their revival.
Crispin Hayes, National Coordinator for the NOIS says, “More than half of Scotland’s orchards have been surveyed and recorded as part of the project to date. The most recent South Lanarkshire report is a significant one due to the historic significance of the area, at one time known as the Fruit Basket of Scotland.”
He continues, “The Clyde Valley was responsible for the majority of plum production in Scotland, but has experienced a long slow decline due to a combination of factors such as imports, change in patterns of shopping to supermarkets, and the growth of processed rather than fresh food. But some of these factors are changing, and there are new opportunities for local fruit and orchard products that the Clyde Valley is well placed to take advantage of.”
The National Orchard Inventory for Scotland - South Lanarkshire project, is one of a number of projects supported by partnership projects between CAVLP, Central Scotland Green Network Trust (CSGNT) and Rural Development Trust (RDT) that seek to revive local orchards.
Since 2011, 207 individuals have received training in orchard management and been supported to develop orchard products which saw the launch of Clyde Valley Orchards apple juice in 2015. In addition, 22 orchards have been planted in local schools, a community orchard has been created at Kirkfieldbank, 14 orchards brought into active management and almost 1000 new fruit trees planted.
Unique archaeological investigations have also been undertaken by CAVLP Heritage, exploring the remains of wells, drains, culverts, packing sheds and field boundaries which have had profound implications on how the landscape still looks today. This can also be explored online at www.clydeandavonvalley.org/museum
Duncan Arthur, a director of CVOC, said, “The report is published during Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, promoting a very unique part of Scotland’s heritage. The results of the report are extremely encouraging for the future of the Clyde Valley orchards. We urge local orchard owners to get in touch with Clyde Valley Orchards Cooperative for orchard management support, including using the fruit they currently have.”
Watch the Clyde Valley Orchards feature on BBC Countryfile below.