More than 50 new community orchards, providing benefits to wildlife and householders, are to be created in West Oxfordshire.

This new initiative follows a successful bid by the district council to secure £50,000 from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ Coronation Living Heritage Fund.

Groups and organisations in the area that have space for at least five fruit trees are now being invited to apply for a portion of this fund.

Witney Gazette: The deadline for early applications is January 19, 2024The deadline for early applications is January 19, 2024 (Image: West Oxfordshire District Council)

The council's initiative aims to restore lost habitats and boost connections between communities and their local green spaces.

The orchard initiative will also be beneficial to birds, sustaining pollinators, and other local wildlife.

Councillor Andrew Prosser, executive member for climate change at West Oxfordshire District Council, said: "We know there’s a lot of interest in the benefits that orchards can offer, both as a means to boost biodiversity and provide new habitats for wildlife, and as a way of bringing communities together.

"In the last 100 years or so over 80 per cent of orchards have disappeared across Oxfordshire.

"The trees planted in the Coronation orchards will play an important role not only by increasing the number of trees in the district, but as they age these trees will develop hollow trunks and rot holes that will offer nesting sites for bats and birds and support an abundance of insect life throughout their life cycle."

Councillor Lidia Arciszewska, executive member for environment at the district council, said: "The launch of the Coronation Community Orchards fund is a really exciting opportunity for parish and town councils, schools, landowners and other groups within the community to get involved and plant orchards in their local area in spaces close to where people live.

"Orchards really are exciting places that bring people together to plant and cultivate the trees, learn new skills and enjoy their harvest.

"They can act as a focal point for community activities while offering people a space to learn more about the wildlife around them."

The creation of community orchards is part of West Oxfordshire District Council’s Biodiversity Action Plan and the Future Oxfordshire Partnership, which works collectively to deliver nature recovery for the county.

These orchards, to be accessible to the public, will serve as a memorable symbol to mark the Coronation of King Charles III, while contributing towards mitigating climate change by reducing carbon dioxide.

The district council, in collaboration with the International Tree Foundation, is planning a webinar to assist applicants concerning tree selection, planting, and overall tree care.

The deadline for early applications is January 19, 2024, with planting expected to take place in February and March.

Additional details regarding the fund can be accessed on council's website.