Apple Days and community orchards

In 1990, dismayed by the loss of so many traditional orchards and amazed at the 3,000 or so varieties of apples that have been known to grow in Britain, the founders of Common Ground set out to create a new calendar date to celebrate our most versatile fruit and the beautiful orchards they come from. The first Apple Day was held on October 21 in the old Apple Market in Covent Garden, London, bringing fruit back there for the first time in 17 years. It struck a chord, and today the date is marked by events running up and down the country, from cider tasting and pruning lesions, to longest peel competitions.

‘Apple Day has become part of the seasonal round and has provided an opportunity for people to express their love of apples, orchards and all the customs, rituals, songs, drinks, recipes and wildlife associated with them, says Sue Clifford, co-founder of Common Ground, a charity working to champion local distinctiveness and a new relationship with nature.

‘Linking the apple with the orchard affirms our reliance on the land and the importance of a healthy relationship with nature. Apple Day is not a marketing device, its creation has been impelled by altruism and idealism for living better with nature – an old orchard may support over 1800 species as well as feeding us. What better demonstration that we can live well with nature do we need?’

In the years since Apple Day began, Common Ground have continued to broaden the impact of the movement to halt the decline of our orchards and native apple species, working to spread the word about community orchards in particular. ‘Orchards have a vital role to play in ensuring our future food security – in 2007 we imported nearly 70% of our apples.

‘We want to inspire and inform an orchard revival building upon the momentum we have helped to instigate – orchards across gardens holding the suburbs together, orchards at the heart of the village, fruit trees in smallholdings colonising the green belt, espaliered trees threading their way along the walls of the city, roofs sprouting with coppiced nut trees, city fig and apricot gardens, fruit corners in parks, around workplaces, linear orchards along railways and canals, wild fruit in hedgerows – orchards linking town and country, place with place, people with nature. The Apple has a symbolic value compounding its power as a messenger of possibility and hope. And in the orchard culture and nature can intertwine so well that there is room for both and richness in each.’

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We are still losing orchards at an alarming rate. Data from Natural England shows that the orchard area throughout England has declined by 63% since 1950. Wales lost 94% between 1958 and 1992. For some counties the impact is devastating. Devon lost 89% of its orchards between 1946-2003 and Kent 92% during the same period. But hundreds of Community Orchards are being created up and down the country, more people are planting fruit trees in their gardens, micro cider-makers are flourishing, old traditional orchards are being valued and conserved by Natural England and others for the richness of wildlife they support. Orchards offer a wise way of sharing the land – a positive gift to those who follow.

* Read some of our favourite apple recipes

A full list of apple days can be found at Here are a few of the best:

Friday 16th & Saturday 17th October Annual Wisbech Market Place apple celebrations, Cambridgshire.
Appley things to buy as well as free Applely items for visitors. Challenge your leg muscles on the Smoothie Bike to make your very own smoothie. Bring along home-grown cooking for the heaviest cooking apple competition to win an Apple Themed Hamper. Contact Appleby media design and marketing: 07785913211

Saturday 17th & Sunday 18th October Wolverton Apple Weekend, Wolverton, Buckinghamshire.
Weekend of apple-themed events and games including ‘apple limbo’, ‘pin the maggot on the apple’ and a longest peel competition (with peelers provided) in the Community Orchard on the Sunday. Contact Denise or phone 01908 316749

Saturday October 17 – Meet ‘The Apple Lady’ at Beetham Nurseries, Cumbria.
A chance to meet Hilary Wilson, expert on researching and sourcing varieties suitable for the wet and cold conditions of the north of England, and a guru on the skill of grafting. Hilary will also be on hand to help identify unusual varieties of apples. (015395 63630)

Saturday 17th October, English Folk Song and Dance Society, Regent’s Park Road, London.
BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction presenter Verity Sharp will present a day of music, dancing, storytelling, crafts, games and all things appley to celebrate Apple Day 2009. The day’s events culminate in performances from Anglo-Australian super-trio Kerr Fagan Harbron and groundbreaking English string quartet Methera as they team up for a virtuoso evening of music. Family Afternoon Adults £6, Children £4 Evening Performance £12 advanced, £14 on the door. Tickets available 020 7485 2206

Wednesday October 21st, Meet the founders of Common Ground at River Cottage Canteen, Axminster, Devon.
Apple Lunch and talks by Sue Clifford & Angela King from Common Ground, authors of “The Apple Source Book”, “Apple Games and Customs” and “Community Orchards Handbook”, James Crowden and his award winning book “Ciderland”, Liz Copas with “A Somerset Pomona” and River Cottage preserving expert Pam Corbin will also be on hand. For tickets for the lunch please call 01297 631715

Saturday 17 to Saturday 25 October Carse of Gowrie Orchard Festival, Perthshire.
Displays and talks on Scottish varieties at Glendoick Garden Centre on Saturday 17th October & Sunday 18th October. Join the local community in a fruit tree weeding session followed by tea and apple cake in the Community Hall at Gas Brae Orchard Avenue and Community Hall on Saturday 24th October. See Contact; Tel. 01382 433042

Until 2nd November, Tring’s Own Apple Fayre, Hertfordshire.
A seasonal celebration of environment, food and culture, including historic orchard tours, apple trails, barn dances, talks and tastings. Contact Martin Hicks on 01442 823188/01992 555220.