apple blossom with a backdrop of Mourne mountains
2nd May 2023

New orchard – a feast for Newcastle

Over the past few weeks, a sterile area of amenity grassland in Newcastle has been transformed into a budding community orchard.

In this latest Mourne Gullion Strangford aspiring UNESCO Global Geopark initiative, local people can now enjoy a vital biodiverse green space in the town, where they can interact with nature.

The planting was carried out partnership between Newry, Mourne and Down District Council and Mourne Heritage Trust.  Orchards have played an essential role in communities for many centuries, providing a focal point, a gathering space, and a place where people and nature work together to create abundant harvests. By becoming custodians of the trees or simply by being around them, residents will be able to visit the orchard to enjoy a place of tranquillity, nourishment and community. 

new orchard trees just planted, on a sunny day in Newcastle with Mournes in the background
new orchard planting at the foot of the Mournes

Talking about the importance creating green spaces within urban settings, Newry Mourne and Down District Council Chairperson, Councillor Michael Savage said, “In an age of increasing social isolation, community orchards are wonderful spaces for bringing people together around a common positive purpose. Orchards are cherished natural areas that give sustenance to people and wildlife. It was particularly wonderful to see students from the Shimna Integrated College taking an active part in the planting as it is our young people who will see the fruits of this forest”.

Martin Carey, Chief Executive of the Mourne Heritage Trust, said, “We were delighted to be involved in such a positive initiative for the local community. Volunteers and staff worked on site over three days to complete the planting of 78 fruit trees with several varieties of apple, plum and pear. We are grateful to all the volunteers who gave their time to prepare the site and plant the trees. It will be rewarding for all involved to see the fruits of their labour developing over the coming years and appreciate the value to our all-important pollinator insects. This initiative has bookended a great response to a series of volunteer tree-planting events across the Mourne AONB advertised through our Mournelive social media page. In April alone, we saw 2,000 trees planted, a tally that would not have been possible without our wonderful volunteers.”

The orchard will provide a place of safety for the trees by preserving heritage varieties for the future.  Once established, the fruit trees will protect and feed all kinds of wildlife.  They blossom early in the year, producing a vital food source for our pollinators at the end of winter.  The trees’ wide spacing lets in sunlight which is welcome for flying insects like butterflies who need warmth to power their flight muscles. In autumn, any leftover fruit will offer a valuable food store for birds like thrushes and blackbirds.

Fruit trees also get old relatively quickly and develop veteran features such as hollow trunks and rot holes, which create nesting sites for birds and bats. A good orchard can support over 1000 species, 400 of which are invertebrates that live on dead and dying wood.

ancient bark of apple tree showing rot holes and moss
early senescence features in an apple tree
photo by Alexandra Lehne creative commons

Some animals that like the taste of fruit trees are not being encouraged.  Until the trees are established, the saplings will be protected from deer by decorating them with ribbons of reflective mylar tape that will flutter in the hope it will scare the animals away. The use of other deterrents, such as motion-activated lights, are also being considered. Chairperson, Councillor Michael Savage continued, “The trees will start to produce fruit within a couple of years and scrumping will be actively encouraged. This place will nourish Newcastle’s body and soul for generations. It’s about developing a whole ecosystem that includes the trees for fruit, encourage pollinators, shelter for wildlife and a place for people, especially children, to come and connect with nature and enjoy each other’s company.”


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