Chairman’s report 2018-19

Last year marked the centenary of the signing of the Armistice leading to the end of hostilities on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the 11th month 1918.  On Thursday, 15th November 2018 we held an Ecumenical Service of Remembrance at the orchard led by Fr Paul Standish and the Royal British Legion assisted by Revs Chris Pritchard, Mike Smith and Paul Withington. Wreaths were laid by members of the Weaverham branch of the Royal British Legion and on behalf of the Northwich branch of The Burma Star Association.  The standard bearer was Alan Smith of the Burma Star Association.  Children from The Russett School laid a lovely wreath which they had made themselves and together with pupils from 7 other primary and secondary schools in Weaverham and Hartford placed remembrance crosses in the ground.  The service was well attended by local schoolchildren (some of whom led the prayers), local veterans, representatives of local organisations, local parish and CWaC councillors, Woodland Trust volunteers, members of our local police force and local villagers.  Our local M.P. Mike Amesbury made a short speech and many of our visitors took time to look around the orchard and to speak to our volunteers. The Northwich Guardian also sent a reporter and an article about the service appeared in the paper.

This year we have planted three Cheshire damson trees (also known as Cheshire Prunes) in addition to some more Cheshire heritage apple trees and we now have approximately 150 fruit trees growing in the orchard.  As mentioned last year, we have lost a few of our Wareham Russet saplings.  In order to replace them Alan and Jane have once again allowed us to take scions from their old Wareham Russet tree and Tom the Appleman has grafted the scions onto rootstock.  He has also grafted some Hazel Pears for us.  Tom has kindly agreed to look after the resultant young trees until we are ready to plant them in February.  

We decided to have a few business cards printed to give to walkers who often talk to us when we are working.  Since handing the cards out some of the walkers have started picking up rubbish left near the picnic tables thus saving us a lot of time on our regular work days.  

On a sad note two dead buzzards were found in another part of Thorn Wood.  They had been shot. A lady reported this to us and we were able to pass the information on to the police and to Neil Oxley of the Woodland Trust.  It is a crime to kill birds of prey.  Fortunately a third buzzard was not killed and still flies overhead.  

We continue to remove any graffiti found on the picnic bench.  Some picnickers used a disposable barbecue on the top bench which resulted in it burning quite badly but there is nothing we can do to rectify the damage.  

We are continuing our experiment to get rid of the ragwort by removing the heads just before the seeds are ready to drop.  We are hoping that as it is a biennial we will be able to greatly reduce the amount of ragwort growing in the orchard in three to four years.  If this does not work we may have to go back to pulling the plant or find some other environmentally friendly method of partial eradication.

Our Face book page seems to be getting more likes every day thanks to Fiona, and Steve continues to send the Russet to as many supporters as possible as well as regularly updating the website.  We also try to update villagers in both communities by submitting contributions to both the Weaverham News and the Hartford News.

In the summer Councillor Charles Fifield informed us that travellers had moved on to the land by the gate at the entrance to Thorn Wood..  We reported this to Neil Oxley who informed the bailiffs.  The travellers were evicted almost immediately.  Despite their short stay they left a lot of rubbish and excrement.  Fortunately they had not entered the orchard and we suffered no damage.  We used one of our work days to clear as much of the ‘rubbish’ as possible putting the main rubbish into a pile and the Woodland Trust arranged for a contractor to pick it all up.  The travellers must have used bolt cutters to cut the chain in order to enter Thorn Wood.  Neil Oxley of The Woodland Trust has replaced the chain and the padlock.  The travellers were only on the land for three or four days.  Let us hope that they do not return.  The vans were blocking the only entrance for fire engines should there be an emergency.  It is not an ideal place for travellers as there is no water or electricity on the site.

Weather permitting our worthy band of volunteers has worked at the orchard one morning every week this year with just a short break at the end and beginning of the year.  It is surprising how much work there is to do and none of us is getting any younger!  We would greatly value any help any of you can give us during the coming year.  You don’t have to commit to coming every week just turn up when you can manage it!  On one occasion we trialled asking for weekend volunteers and a few valued supporters turned up but others who normally come mid -week could not make it.  We may again try a weekend workday next summer.

This year we wish to mark the 80th anniversary of the start of The Second World War by improving and extending the wild flower meadow in memory of the Fallen.  We will start by scarifying a circle around the bush variety Wareham Russets and then scattering wild flower seed.  If we are successful and can raise the funds this will be an ongoing project and we will continue to extend this circle for many years to come.  In the meantime we will continue to mow the paths on a regular basis (Thanks to Peter and his mower) and to mow the ‘meadow’ only once a year in late August/early September in order allow the wild flowers already there to spread their seeds.  This should improve the quality of the wild flower meadow over time.

I really would like to thank our volunteers who have worked incredibly hard over the past twelve months planting, weeding, slashing, mulching, re-staking trees, keeping the paths clear, treating the wood of the picnic benches and notice board, clearing litter and dog poo etc etc  I am particularly grateful to Geoff Hornby who, although not a member of our action group, never fails to turn up for work, those members of the Action Group who also turn up every Tuesday and also to Rob Lloyd who turns up quite frequently when his hay fever permits and to all the other volunteers who help us out occasionally.  Brian is responsible for planning and organisation and in the past has also looked after our newly grafted saplings until they are ready to plant in the orchard.  

Thanks are also due to Neil Oxley of the Woodland Trust and to our local police officers, particularly PC Matthew Hood, for their continued support.  

Words cannot express my gratitude to the Action Group members who not only work hard at the orchard but work tirelessly behind the scenes in so many ways.  I cannot list the number of jobs each one does.  My thanks therefore go to Mike Hornby (secretary), Brian Williams (treasurer), Jacquie Williams, Fiona Casson, Peter Sayers, Steve Doughton, and John Freeman.  Finally thanks to all of you for your continued support.

Tina Johnson 15th October 2019