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March Steyning Community Orchard: What a wonderful world!

After my retirement last July, many asked, 'What will you do?' Answer: Conservation/regeneration. My faith has always led me towards tending to the preservation of our earth. This has led me to joining the Steyning Community Orchard Group, the Steyning Downland Scheme Maintenance Group, the St Andrew’s Churchyard Group and the Abbey Road Conservation Group.

Abbey Road in Steyning is where I live, and it has a special place in my heart, because our boys used to play there on the open ground. Over many years the footprint of the land has changed significantly. Recently I was shown a picture from 2009 of one part of the site which only had three trees on it. Now, there is an abundance of flora and fauna that is being maintained and formed into different habitats.

Abbey Road Conservation Area. April 2023
Abbey Road Conservation

Central to one area, is a very large, semi- permanent pond that fills with water from the land and floodwater from the nearby stream. Last year, we had a wealth of frogspawn, so we set up a night time camera, which showed a vast number of bright pairs of eyes staring back at us. That would explain the visitation from a Little Egret the following week! In the late spring and summer when the pond dries out, it is filled with Water Mint, Purple Loosestrife and a wide range of grasses. We have just coppiced many Goat Willows to let more light through the central section of the pond, so that more flora will be regenerated in what was previously a dark section with little growth.

Earlier I mentioned about regeneration; this is because we are not only here to conserve, but add and replace trees and scrub that were there many years ago. We have been gifted nine native Black Poplar trees from Wakehurst Place, as they love wet ground. In addition, five Alders were planted last year, plus six Silver Birch, and ten Alder Buckthorn (to encourage the Brimstone Butterfly population), then thirty Hawthorns next to our new orchard. Our band of local volunteers, numbering about 12, have much to do, not only to maintain, but generate new habitats for everyone to appreciate. Last year for the first time, a Nightingale and Cettis Warbler were heard singing on site; a sure sign that everything we’re doing is having a positive effect.

We are planning to have an Open Day at Abbey Rd in late April, to show everyone what we are doing here. Watch out for an item on that in the April ‘Your Steyning’.

I read recently about the loss of orchards throughout Sussex and it made me want to weep. Steyning, however, is bucking the trend with three orchards; on the Memorial Playing Field, the Downland Orchard on the Steyning Downland Scheme Rifle Range and the newest one at Abbey Road. Over 100 fruit trees have been planted so far in our orchards.

We now have 9 apple trees at Abbey Rd planted over the last 2 years, with more being planned.

Abbey Road Orchard. June 2023
Abbey Road Orchard

Personal reflections from Simon Knowles, who has recently joined the Steyning Community Orchard Steering Group (amongst many other things!)
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