Comrie Community Orchard 10th Anniversary. 2011 saw the establishment of a significant new orchard of some 200 fruit trees at Cultybraggan Camp in Upper Strathearn. 2021 is therefore the 10th anniversary of its establishment.
Comrie Development Trust purchased the former WW2 PoW and MOD training camp in 2007. As part of a village wide consultation exercise to seek ideas for the redevelopment of the Camp, it was established that an orchard would be a popular development within a mixed-use development of commercial, heritage and social uses.
As part of the initial master plan for Cultybraggan Camp, the northwest quarter of the site was designated as a ‘food quadrant’ where food related projects would be promoted. This included the establishment of Community Allotments and a number of food related businesses operating from former PoW and MOD buildings around the edge of the quadrant. To complement these uses, an orchard seemed the logical choice for part of the area occupied by the former MOD assault course and an open area of grassland, which had been cleared of WW2 Nissen huts by the MOD before Comrie Development Trust bought the site.
The viability of the project was researched and a working group established to take the idea forward. Planting plans were drawn up and expert advice sought on suitable varieties and root stock vigour, suitable for the soil and climate. It was decided to plant a broad range of varieties renowned for their reliability in the Scottish climate. A few old Scottish varieties were chosen including Scotch Bridget, James Grieve and Bloody Ploughman. Apple, pear and plum varieties would make up the major component of species but a lesser number of cherries, medlars, quince, hazels and walnuts have been introduced, together with soft fruit including black and redcurrants, gooseberries and blueberries.
Trees in the northern part of the orchard have been planted mainly as standard trees but imaginative use has been made of the former assault course walls, where cordon, step-over and espalier forms have been trained.
‘Edible’ hedges were planted at the perimeter to provide shelter, but also yield native berries and fruits including hawthorn, sloe, elder, guelder rose, bramble and rowan. Blossom from these would provide food and a nectar source for pollinating insects.
A fledgling volunteer working group planted the orchard over the Winter and Spring of 2011. The fruit trees, soft fruit and hedges are now well established, and the orchard has become an integral part of the Cultybraggan Camp mixed-use development. It is now registered in the National Orchard Inventory Scheme, which is another way of getting Cultybraggan Camp onto the map.
Volunteer numbers have grown steadily over the years and new members of the Orchard Working Group are always welcome. Although currently on hold due to Government Covid 19 restrictions, up to 16 volunteers meet on workdays, held on the 1st Sunday of every month. There is always plenty of work to be done to carry out essential pruning and formative training over the winter months, weeding and mulching tree pits and soft fruit beds throughout the year and of course, harvesting in the Autumn. Other jobs include grass mowing of the orchard and weeding of a ‘Beetle Bank’ to encourage wildflowers and pollinators. Experimenting with scything grass as an alternative to strimming is being tried. Those who have been doing this have expressed a preference over strimming as it is quieter and emissions free! The grass areas are being managed to enhance native wild flora.
Volunteer time based on regular workdays and intermediate days now amounts to approximately 600 hours per year.
Over the years since establishment, working group members have taken part in fruit tree pruning and grafting courses as well as hedge laying and scything courses.
In normal times visitors are welcome to wander around the orchard. There is a mown network of paths through the trees and picnic tables provide a place to sit and enjoy the orchard and the magnificent views to the hills to the north of Comrie.
What happens to all of the produce from the orchard? The main fruit harvest takes place in September and October in preparation for a now regular Apple Day where part of the fruit harvest is converted to apple juice. In addition to our own apple harvest, Comrie residents are invited to bring fruit from their own trees. Drummond Castle has also donated apples from their orchard. These events have been a great success with participation from working group members and other stallholders including a local bee keeper, artisan herbal tea, bread and cheese makers who have set up businesses in the Food Quadrant at the Camp. The group now owns its own apple crushing and pressing equipment.
Fruit and preserves are also sold in the village at St Kessog’s Square as produce becomes available before the main Apple Day event.
These events have been good fund raising activities as well as generating interest about the orchard project in the village. Funds are used to purchase essential equipment and materials such as a wide range of tools, wheelbarrows, netting, fertilisers and composts etc.
Sadly the 2020 Apple Day had to be cancelled due to the Covid restrictions, but fruit juice was still made by volunteers for sale in the village. We hope to be able to hold the Apple Day again in Autumn 2021.
Early days July 2011
At the Comrie Community Woodland about 20,000 mounds across the site have been created in preparation for tree planting that is due to take place in March. This will mark the true start of the new woodland that the community can enjoy over future years and generations.
The group has also been awarded a Volunteering Matters Action Earth grant of £250 from Scottish Natural Heritage, towards the cost of volunteer equipment that will be used to create some small ponds across the site. These ponds will enhance the biodiversity of the woodland and provide another place of interest and education for visitors. This is an exciting time for the community woodland and hopefully COVID restrictions will be eased enough soon to allow the volunteers to begin working together again on various projects. Anyone interested in getting involved in voluntary woodland activities can contact the group at: email@example.com
Although the Visitor Attraction at the Camp remains closed, the Camp’s ground is open to the local community for exercise. However, please be aware that construction work is ongoing and take extra care as heavy vehicles will be driving around the Camp.
If you have any questions about Comrie Development Trust or are interested in volunteering please email firstname.lastname@example.org – we’ll be glad to hear from you.