Flow - Exe Community Orchard is a recently commenced community project, promoting the involvement of local people with the natural environment, facilitated by local horticulturalists, environmental workers and artists.
The project has emerged from an artist’s residency in the Riverside Valley Park by Anne-Marie Culhane, funded by the Arts Council and has been developed with input from the Environment Agency, Exeter City Council as part of the Exeter Wild City Project and East Devon Growth Point. The project is planting 200 fruit and nut trees along the banks of the river Exe, providing a public orchard, the fruits of which shall be available to all to fairly share and a cultural resource for the city for outdoor events and creative activities.
Over the past year Anne-Marie has been building links in the community, consulting with local people and drawing together their ideas and offering different ways for people to take part in FLOW (see FLOW website for more details)
This includes making an Orchard Box a portable lightbox of slides of pressed flower blossoms with Amy Shelton and creating a run through the park called Running with Trees which explored the connections between trees, breathe and climate change and visiting local events, meetings and festivals to gather input and enthusiasm for the project.
Linking with members of Devon Wildlife Trust staff, established community organisations such as Ludwell Life, Wellbeing Exeter to name a few, the events at Exwick on 20th January and Trew's Weir 21st January were well attended by a broad cross-section of people, from different social backgrounds, of various age groups.
The events cogently put forward the relative facts concerning the correlation of humanity with nature, their dependance on the planet and the need for a symbiotic relationship in order to coexist thrive and survive.
Skilled horticulturalists, arborists and wildlife enthusiasts briefed us and shared their knowledge, demonstrating effective methods to plant an orchard.
Trees having been proven to improve soil drainage and with rising sea levels and risk of flood, makes this kind of initiative vital in the city area around river Exe and presenting further havens for birdlife, mammals and pollinating insects to thrive. Some trees have been proven to absorb up to 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year, making projects like this a productive way to store carbon.
Trees near urban areas improve air quality, which is at a high level in Exeter, particularly during the summer months with increased traffic volumes, during tourist season.
The trees planted were various types and varieties, including almond, apple, cherry, quince, apricot, pear, damson, loquat. The trees have been selected to represent local and heritage varieties but also to adapt to a changing climate.
Bird feeding methods of studding apples with seeds, and making fat balls were demonstrated and installed in the trees, along with lanterns at the base of their trunks designed by Amy Shelton.
Food was provided by project volunteers working with Andy’s Café at Exwick St Andrews Church and on the following day by The Boat Yard Bakery.
The event included a story written and performed by Heather Jane, who told a beautiful story related to local trees and wassailing. Heather had heard the Robin call to her when she created the story. Traditionally, the Robin is the guardian of the orchard and thats why toast is usually hung in the tree as an offering to the Robin. The toast was pinned on Toastmaster Jo’s coat and hat and then later placed among the newly planted tree's branches. The tale told, illustrated the need for trees, the symbiosis of animal and plant species and their essential role in the ecosystem. It also promoted the rights of members of the public to access to common land, food sovereignty and community food projects.
There was also a community wassail (a chance to sing to the trees!) Using the new Exeter Wassail, commissioned by Anne-Marie in 2015, Anne-Marie & Emma Welton, local composer, wrote new words and Emma made a new arrangement of music for the event. The wassail was learnt by the Exwick Community Singers and others from across the city at open rehearsals earlier in the month, with other attendees joining in and ceremoniously "wassailing" or toasting the newly planted trees, at dusk, with either apple juice or cider, provided by Crispin Adams, a local cider maker and grower. The wassail bowl, made by Anne-Marie from local cherry wood and filled with mulled cider, was passed around by MC Toastmaster Jo.
Some participants views and comments about the events so far....
"It was amazing when I arrived to photograph at Trews Weir and the first thing I heard was the entrancing song of the little Robin as he perched so close to us and surveyed our tree planting, darting all around us! On the bird theme, I loved that as we started the walk to wassail at Trews Weir a flock of Gulls flew over us in a FLOW down to the estuary to roost!" – Event photographer, Jenny Steer
"Thank you for inviting Devon Wildlife Trust to be a part of the FLOW orchard planting event. It is not often that an event brings together a community in such a holistic, inspiring, and empowering way. The combination of tree planting, craft, storytelling and song clearly resonated with participants and the depth of engagement was striking. The tree planting gave local people a sense of ownership and a desire for ‘their’ trees to thrive. I think this will be an event which will make a lasting impact on the people who took part as well as the land that now holds the ribbon orchard" – Jasmine Atkinson, Devon Wildlife Trust
"I think it was a fab weekend and really successful on lots of levels. The variety of activities that you brought together was amazing, but it was coherent and well organised as well!" – Stuart Lockton, participant in the weekend
"Wow what an amazing and uplifting weekend. It is one of the most inspiring ways of working and projects I’ve been involved with and it has culminated in a way of working I thought I could only dream of." – Mary-Rose Lane, Environment Agency
There is also some funding secured for horticultural training on the route and interpretation in the future. The next stage of the event is a walk and a picnic along the route on Sunday 29th April 2018, with a conversation about FLOW and how to move forward with the community. All are welcome.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to be part of the FLOW mailing list and receive updates.
Anne Marie Culhane https://www.amculhane.co.uk/pages/amabout.htm
Amy Shelton http://www.amyshelton.co.uk/
Emma Welton http://emmawelton.net/
Heather Jane Storyteller https://www.facebook.com/HeatherJaneStoryteller/
Crispin Adams http://www.exeter-apples.org.uk/cider.html
Jenny Steer http://jennysteer.co.uk
Exwick Community Association
St Thomas Community Association
East Devon Growth Point
Exeter Food Network
Environment Agency South West
East Devon Council:
Some other organisations and individuals who contributed to FLOW:
Rachel Gillmore, from Exwick, community builder
Jayne Leaver, from Exwick, community builder
Chloe, from St. Thomas, community builder
Local growing group in St Thomas:
Local group in the Ludwell Valley Park area
Aswell as many others including various patient participation groups from the Exeter area.
Thanks to all and everyone who got involved.
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