Orchards have long been a traditional part of the English landscape but sadly they have been in sharp decline over the last few decades. Some have been simply neglected or forgotten but many more have been shamefully destroyed, to make way for more profitable crops or building work.
Mansbridge Bounty by local Photographer & Enthusiast Bob Painton
But why are orchards so important? Why should we care about preserving them?
Orchards are much more than a place to grow fruit for financial gain. School children can visit them to learn about science, nature, geography, health and food. Orchards form important habitats for endangered species, wildlife and bees can thrive amongst the trees. Wild flowers can grow under the trees. The orchard can be a place for tranquil reflection; it can be used for picnics, playing and walking. When the bloom arrives with spring, blossom walks are a perfect way for people to enjoy the season’s splendour. Outdoor events can be held in orchards, they are the textbook place for celebration. Where children can play safely and adults can relax, we can once again enjoy that long lost feeling of being immersed in nature.
Mansbridge Apples by Bob Painton
Finally when autumn arrives there will be a huge crop of apples and when everyone joins in with the harvest, the overall benefit to the community is tremendous. An orchard for the community does not only supply free food, but encourages the talking, meeting, walking, and the communing. The exchange of ideas, recipes, skills, plans and even dreams. It can reunite the old and the young; it can enhance respect for each other and the land. Mutual respect, bought through public involvement is an effective way of reducing crime, bigotry, and the sense of hopelessness, which can permeate in times of depression.
More Mansbridge Apples by Bob Painton
After negotiations with the City Council regarding a Community Orchard in Mansbridge we have now been granted full permission to establish, maintain and harvest from the trees in the area. We need volunteers; there will be lots of on-going work to do, but it will be worth it. Herbert Collins, the architect of many of the houses in this area, firmly believed in the benefit of green spaces and often insisted that fruit trees were planted in the gardens for the benefit of those who lived there.
The Ever-Watchful Eye of Mansbridge by Local Photographer Bob Painton
Fruit trees benefit from being carefully pruned, it helps them to remain strong and produce a good crop of healthy apples and pears. A few paths may need to be considerately maintained to improve access to some areas. Different fruit trees (plums and cherries for instance) could be planted to take advantage of their earlier seasonal fruiting. Fences could be made by coppicing hazel to protect wildlife in sensitive areas. There will be more work to be done in the first couple of years but once the orchard establishes itself the job will become easier.
We will need education, skills, tools, planning and funding but if we work through these things as a community, the barriers can be overcome. In time, we can clear the rubbish from the wilderness, and develop a natural haven, sprinkled through with healthy fruit trees, which everyone can delight in and benefit from.
We now have a Facebook page and our campaign has attracted huge amounts of press attention; many people, including the Southampton Woodcraft Folk, are getting fully involved.
If you support the Community Orchard Campaign or can help in any way - let us and everyone else know...

Some of the initial comments below related to a previous campaign, which has now been sucessfully resolved.


  1. Hello Alan, I work for BBC South news online and am keen to talk to you re: Free Southampton Common campaign. Please can you contact me asap on 01305 269654. Kind regards, Sue Paz.

  2. Hi Sue
    Looks like it's going to get a bit busy here ;-)
    Thanks for your support.
    Alan aka the Urbane Forager

  3. Good to have this established. I live in the Forest and pick blackberries, sloes and chestnuts every year. People pass by as I pick, but never seem to join me. I think I've got the Forest to myself!

    Can't find any crab apples locally though.

  4. Good Work Sir/Madam
    I'm going to try making sloe wine this year.
    There are plenty of Crab Apples in Southampton. I can put some on the map if you like?
    Thanks for your support and keep picking!
    Alan aka the Urbane Forager

  5. Hello Alan, A few years ago when visiting friends in Southampton we strolled on the common with our two young children. We had picked a small handful of blackberries to share when a very angry Park Ranger came up to us, saying that we were taking the crops that wild birds fed on and ruining any chance they had of feeding. We told him we thought there was no harm in collecting a very small quantity of blackberries when there was such an abundance around and so many blackberries were out of reach for humans but perfectly reachable to birds and animals. He was very unpleasant and our children were quite shaken at the time by his over-the-top attitude. I'm pleased to say that this unpleasant experience has not had any long-lasting effects and we still collect fruits and other forage-able foods; always in a careful, responsible and sustainable way, of course! Best wishes, Laura and family, Wirral.

  6. Cripes!
    That is a tad over zellous - they are not the police.
    Well, it's all been put to bed now, just as I was getting into my stride.
    I fought the law and there was none!
    Thanks for all the support everyone.
    I feel a bit like Robin Hood now.
    Keep picking blackberries, apples and well maybe chestnuts now & keep following the Urbane Forager...
    My next campaign will be to revive two Community Orchards - I have discovered two "lost" ones in Southampton.
    Alan aka the Urbane Forager

  7. Just starting t forage foods! I have so many memories of foraging as a kid in the hills in wales! Home sweet home! Time to start in southampton! I would be glad of any tips from people!

  8. Hi
    I guess the first thing you need to know is that Winter is always a lean time for foraging. Something else you may find handy is my map at the bottom of the blog on each page.
    Best of luck and always remember where your local shops are.

  9. Where abouts in Mansbridge are you hoping to have the community orchard? There are some important wildlife areas in Mansbridge, so I hope the orchard would add to the biodiversity resource not compete with it.

  10. The trees already exist, we do not need to change anything. Bees might be a nice addition, I suppose.
    I care deeply about wildlife and belive that the best way of preventing wild habitat loss and damage is by further engaging and educating people with nature.
    It would be nice if we could get some of the fly tipped rubbish removed, which would be beneficial to both the public who use the area and the important wildlife.
    I hope that my opinions on these matters are apparent from the information above.

    1. So where abouts do you have in mind then? There are lots of apple trees on the edge of the meadow by Octavia Road. Its old landfill underneath I think and some of the old rubbish is visible there. I think it is important to tell people where it will be if you want them to get behind your campaign. In principle its a wonderful idea!

  11. Yes, those are the trees I'm talking about.
    It would be nice if we could clear some of the visible rubbish initially and maybe get some nice topsoil down but you have to balance what we might think is/looks nice against disturbing the established habitat and wildlife.
    There is very little wilderness left in the city, as the previous poster implied(possibly the same person?). What looks like a load of old weeds and brambles to most people might play host to precious wild life.
    From a fruit picking perspective, it would be helpful to prevent the brambles climbing into some of the trees. Also it would benefit the health of the trees and fruit if some better trees were gradually pruned, in a professional manner.
    My discussions with the council officials are progressing well but until things have been firmed up, it's a matter of planning what might be best for the future.
    If you or anyone else is interested I have started a facebook group and this would be a good place to introduce yourselves and state your interest/expertise/anything else you may wish to contribute.


  12. Hi I would like to volunteer to help please, whats the next step?

  13. Hi Barbra
    That's excellent news, thanks for your support.
    As things currently stand (discussions are in progress) the thing that would be most useful will be to clear brambles from the trees and to considerately prune some of the more tangled trees. With pruning the idea is for thwe work to be done during the dormant periods (winter) and to remove branches that cross and rub others and also to cut off any new upward growing shoots coming out of major limbs; there is plenty of advice in line.
    Of course it is always good to enthuse and recruit more people to the cause and higlight what we are planning to do for the future.
    Perhaps we should get together for an informal chat on site or in a pub somewhere soon.
    let me know what you want to do...

  14. Well, I have been enjoying gathering my apples in the "wild" environment for many years. Now I have to pitch in with laying paths and putting up fences in order to grab a few? No, ta...

  15. Well Anonymous, I suggest that you carry on picking fruit alone in the “wild” then…

    We will not be laying any paths or building any fences, just removing a few brambles from the trees and perhaps next year maybe some gentle pruning, which I’m quite sure you would not complain about.

    The idea of a Community Orchard is to be of benefit to, and inclusive of the local Community and others who may not have the access, knowledge or ability to do so normally.

    It is an inclusive endeavour not a selfish one.
    It’s fine if you wish to exclude yourself from our activities – they are social in nature and you do not come across as the kind of person who would enjoy that. Your comment sounds bitter, I feel sorry for you.

    You clearly relish reading my blog though, and I imagine that you have been scrutinising the public fruit map too, eh?

  16. I agree that orchards are very important places and we should try to save them. I had a look at the Google fruit map, and we may go to some of the spots.

    With fruit and nuts all atound, people really should start to realise that fruit trees are not just there to cut down and destroy, and apples and plums are not just to throw around and squash. I will pu a post up on my blog about the importance of tree-conservation.

    P.S I have advertised your blog on mine!

  17. Good work Eleanor
    Maybe we will pop down to visit you and your dad sometime soon and go fruit and nut picking.
    You can help my kids with bird spotting skills while we go.

  18. Hi Alan,

    My name is Joe and I have just signed up to your blog :) I am a keen gardener, after having developed the bottom third of my parents garden into an allotment which i have been tending to for two years, just entering the third year now. I have had my first experience, along with my girlfriend, trying to make cider - although I should say it turned out more like petrol (a bit too much sugar I think). Anyway I thought I would simply say that I have very much enjoyed reading through your blog and your cider making experiences, and will continue to follow it with interest. If there are any hints you give give me on how to find the best apple trees in Hedge End that would be very much appreciated, hope to talk soon.


    1. Hi Joe
      Better luck next time, maybe try it in your car ;-)
      I do not add any sugar to my cider. I just leave the juice to ferment, nothing added and nothing taken away. I also use a variety of different apples in the mix, too much of one type can be a bad thing. There are specific cider apples (high in tannin, they taste awful).

  19. Hi Joe
    Personally, I don't add sugar to my apple juice when making cider, although once I added some after fermenting one batch.
    if it tastes like petrol, something has gone badly wrong. I wouldn't drink it but I wouldn't try it in your fuel tank either.
    there are a lot of fruit trees in Hedge End - I find them as I walk about during my lunch hour.
    Have you looked on my fruit map yet?

  20. Thanks for the reply Alan, I have had a look on the fruit map but there only seems to be one location for apple trees listed, obviously the one by kanes hill roundabout. Are there many trees around that area? And are there any other areas in Hedge End or surrounding areas which you could reccommend? Thanks for the tip about the cider, I don't think there will be any sugar going in this year :)

    Cheers, Joe

  21. hi Joe
    There are loads of Apple trees around Hedge End, have a look down the blog from Autumn 2012. I will try to add some on the map when I get a spare moment.
    Of course the best map, is in my head ;-) and off the top of that - Maunsell Way and Drummond Rd were very fruitful areas last year.

  22. Please can you contact me about the community orchard in Mansbridge? Thanks.

    1. Hi Cara
      What do you want to know?
      We do have a facebook page, that might be simpler