The Fruit Maps of Durham
Written by Wilf, Green Durham CIC
As you may know Green Durham grew out of the remains of Transition Durham, which started way back in 2006. One of the early group activities for Transition Durham members was to create a Fruit Group in 2009. It was an exciting and focused project with a clear mission for Tom, Amy, Adam and the various others that joined them including myself.
That mission was to enable a fruit tree for every resident of Durham City. We saw a future in which you didn’t need to buy fruit when it was in season. Instead you just went out and picked it for free. We imagined people in neighbourhood groups coming together to collectively harvest gluts of fruit to make juices, jams, preserves, cider and then selling it or distributing it around the neighbourhoods. We were very inspired by the Abundance movement at the time. We even wrote a business plan that involved generating community income and employing a handful of people.
Well we thought we should start by seeing just how many fruit trees there were. This was great fun and involved wandering around the city or cycling out to a suburb area, making notes on locations and then heading to a pub to conclude our mission. Those evenings seemed wrong unless they were finished off with a pint of cider.
The mapping could only be done in two time periods during the year, when the trees flowered (typically May) and when they fruited (typically September). The fruiting evenings always took longer and were far more fun as we sampled various apples and got really excited when we found something even better like plums, pears, medlars and even a kiwi.
We made links with local orchards, walled garden owners, smallholdings and historical venues and added them to the map too. We realised we had two forms of data, the trees that were publicly accessible e.g alongside footpaths and those that were private i.e behind a fence. So we decided to create two maps: a public fruit tree map and a private one. Tom and Adam had some great tech skills and suggested using Google Maps which had (and still does) a feature to create a layer on top of maps using pins and markers which you can make public or private. Perfect.
Both maps still exist. The public map can be seen here.
If you want to see the private map then you would need to ask for permission. The public data has been copied and used by other groups without permission which is ok but we can’t take that risk with the private data. One such group is Falling Fruit who have a global interactive map of fruit trees. It is ambitious and includes a lot of data which is great to check out when travelling outside the area. Unfortunately at the moment of writing this their website was hard to use (their own confession) and the paid for app was experiencing quite a few issues but is promising.
Our maps were developed intensively for a few years from 2009. We also ran fruit tree grafting sessions and had a little fruit tree nursery in the grounds of St. John’s Church at Neville’s Cross for a few years.
Fruit tree grafting is where you can make new fruit trees by taking cuttings, known as scions, from existing trees and creating a special join to a standard root, known as rootstock, of the same type of fruit tree. We took cuttings from some of our favourite trees we found. I even still have one which we called the Dairy, named after a tree found near the old dairy at Stonebridge, which has since been redeveloped and the tree lost in the process.
That flurry of work came to an end when Adam moved to Rothbury to plant trees and Tom moved to Antarctica to monitor climate change!
Amy stayed in the area and became a key founder of Fruitful Durham CIC alongside Jules, Fiona and Valentina. For years this social enterprise enacted aspects of our original vision and made it their own including making apple juice, chutneys and jams. They also grafted new fruit trees and sold them. It was successful and hard work and as a social enterprise lasted nearly a decade. Fruitful Durham CIC ceased trading in 2019.
Their juicing activities were taken on by North East Autism Society at their New Warlands Farm at Burnhope. I had some of their juice recently after a visit to the Wolsingham Show. Great to see this activity continuing.
Our fruit maps have been idle but maybe they could be used again. I personally prefer a raw apple if it’s an eater, or maybe just slightly cooked if it’s a cooker as I love having a high fiber diet that’s great for gut health.
We would love to see the maps reactivated, added to, updated and utilised more. If you want to get involved in editing the maps then please get in touch.