A survey by the village Environment Group in 2009 of all the fruit trees in Brightwell cum Sotwell recorded a total of about 450 fruit trees, 81 heritage varieties of apple, remnants of old orchards still surviving in private gardens and an apple tree in the heart of the village estimated to be about 150 years old.
Following the success of the first Apple Day at the Red Lion that autumn it was clear that there is a great enthusiasm in the village for all things apple - picking, tasting, pressing, juice making, cider making, scrumping from hedgerows, looking after old orchards and planting new ones.
One might say, as there are so many apples in the village, why plant a community orchard? We are incredibly lucky that there are so many trees still surviving from old orchards in the village, but being in private gardens we rely on the owners to look after these old trees which can be susceptible to disease and storm damage. These aging and large trees might just be in the way of a new garden design.
Brightwell cum Sotwell is an extraordinary village with a remarkable number of heritage varieties and we want to try to preserve as many as possible. In the community orchard, we plan to plant many of the more interesting or unusual varieties as we can rather than the familiar and ubiquitous Bramley and Cox. There is a groundswell of people realising that these varieties represent traditional food from the past three centuries which could disappear if not rescued now.
Being in private gardens villagers don't have the opportunity to taste the subtle differences between such heritage varieties as Emneth Early, Annie Elizabeth, James Grieve, Ingrid Marie, Grenadier, Ashmead Kernel, Lord Lambourne or Tydeman's Late Orange.
The huge number of heritage varieties are a living record of how fruit growing would have been in the past. Our varieties span the complete harvest period from August to November. No village in Oxfordshire can match the number of varieties we have in Brightwell and it's possible that there isn't another village in England that could record the same. We want to preserve this historical record and protect the traditional orchard habitat which has almost disappeared.
As the French are proud of their vineyards and wines and the Italians are of their olive groves and oils so the English should be proud of their orchards and apples