Reaseheath student wins award for floodplain orchard

Reaseheath College undergraduate Daniel Ackerley has won a national award with his flood plain orchard.

Daniel, who is studying for his Foundation Degree in Countryside, Conservation and Recreation at the Nantwich college, was a runner-up in The Conservation Foundation’s ‘Gardening Against the Odds’ Awards.

The annual competition seeks out horticultural projects which are inspirational in their own right, which benefit people who face physical, mental or environmental ’odds’ and which can also offer wider benefits to the community.

Daniel, who lives in Vicars Cross, Chester, successfully grows over 100 fruit trees near the River Dee in Farndon despite the land being flooded with up to six feet of water during the winter.

He has planted the two acre plot with unusual and heritage varieties of fruit trees including apples, pears, plums, quince, mulberries, walnuts and hazelnuts, some dating back to Roman times. He is also growing endangered native black poplar and elm trees which he is monitoring as part of national programmes to grow disease resistant species.

As the plot adjoins a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) Daniel manages the orchard to provide diverse habitat for wildlife and hopes that as it matures it could be used to educate young people in conservation methods.

He also hopes to increase his involvement in community activities, as the orchard is near Holt’s medieval castle and is on a popular walking route around Farndon and Holt.

The 46 year-old engineer, who had to retire prematurely from his work on off shore oil rigs due to Crohn’s Disease, has found that the project and his college course has given him an alternative focus.

Passionately interested in conservation and in garden history, Daniel decided to go ahead with his orchard once he realised that a similar scheme nearby had been successful centuries ago despite being regularly flooded.

Daniel receives his certificate from actress Susan Hampshire

Daniel receives his certificate from actress Susan Hampshire

He said: “Having an underwater orchard might seem a bit strange but the knowledge that it’s worked in the past gave me the confidence to go ahead. My college course has enabled me to carry out the project scientifically and in a structured way, using both traditional and modern techniques.

“Basically I’m trying to retain a vestige of medieval field system which is surrounded by modern agriculture. To do this successfully I need a good understanding of science and current legislation as well as practical skills.

“I was surprised and delighted to make the judges’ selection for the ‘Gardening Against the Odds’ award. The whole event was extremely positive. All finalists were selected because their projects were outward looking and went beyond their own boundaries.”

The Conservation Foundation Director David Shreeve said: “Daniel is a great example of what the ‘Gardening Against the Odds’ awards are all about. The judges were really impressed with his story and what he is doing.

“Susan Hampshire, a keen fruit grower herself, described it as an inspired use of space, growing trees and producing fruit.”

The finals of the prestigious competition were held on Wednesday at a gala tea party at Syon House in London.

Find out more about the Foundation Degree in Countryside, Conservation and Recreation.