A BID to develop a community orchard in Steyning has received wide support in the community.
Four residents formulated the idea and a public meeting was held by Steyning 10:10 Climate Action Group last Wednesday to gauge support.
Around 50 people gathered at Steyning Cricket Club to hear about the plans from Steyning 10:10 co-ordinator Geoff Barnard, professional gardener Sue Saunders and tree surgeon Simon Zec.
Sue, who set up and ran the Southlanders allotment in Shoreham for two years, said the long-term aim was to find a dedicated site to set up a Steyning Community Orchard.
But in the mean time, they were in talks with Steyning Parish Council to get the ball rolling by working on the old orchard at the top of the Memorial Playing Field.
“There is a lot of potential for bringing together different parts of Steyning in a project like this,” she explained. “There is also a social aspect, I just thought that it would be a lot of fun.
“We can set this up as a showcase to educate people on biodiversity. We can look at what has been grown in Steyning and what we can keep for the future.
“The environmental aspect is huge. We can help people with their own fruit trees, who them how to prune and hold conservation workshops.”
She gave examples of other community orchards, including Oaklands Park Community Orchard, planted in Chichester in November 2011. It featured six heritage varieties of Sussex apple and was thriving, she said.
Many orchards produced cider using local varieties of apples, created wildflower meadows and made compost, all of which the team wants to work towards in Steyning.
Simon said Steyning used to have many orchards and some of the trees remained, including apples and cherry plums on the MPF.
“Some of them are very, very old and it can be quite difficult to get to the apples,” he added. “The trees are there and they are ripe for the picking if we could only get to them. We can try to regenerate as many of the trees as we can and within a few years, we could get them all up and running again.”
The plan is to set up committee within the next month. Then, a register of trees will be made, and finally a dedicated site will be identified for an orchard and wildflower meadow.
Charles Ashby, chairman of Steyning Horticultural Society, said a formal structure was needed, including a constitution and long-term lease.
“Once you have got that up and running the world is your oyster,” he added. “There is a huge amount of funding out there available.”
Petra Billings from the Steyning Downland Scheme offered to help with the logistics. She said she had done a lot of research into heritage varieties of apples in Sussex.