Contamination fears threaten future of Sherborne orchard
FEARS soil at a former landfill site could be contaminated have put the future of a community orchard project at risk, volunteers have said.
One year ago plans for Sherborne's first-ever community orchard took a step forward after town councillors backed proposals to plant the project in part of the Quarr Nature Reserve, off Blackberry Lane.
Joanna Lowndes, co-ordinator of the Sherborne Community Orchard Group, and other volunteers set about drumming up support and enlisting helpers with the hope of planting in the autumn.
The group hoped to create a productive community asset – yielding an apple crop, other smaller fruit, juice and even cider.
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It was hoped the location would become a popular beauty spot as well as an organic haven for wildlife.
But volunteers have been forced to rethink plans after it emerged the area of land earmarked for the project is a former landfill site – potentially jeopardising soil purity.
Mrs Lowndes said: "Everything was going well and we suddenly realised that it used to be a landfill site. No-one else had notified us of this previously.
"We would have to spend a lot of money testing the soil to see if there was a risk if we planted trees there. The concern is that people would not be able to eat the produce if the soil was contaminated."
Mrs Lowndes, who works at Hunts Food Services, said: "We are concerned the tests would be just too expensive to fund and we wouldn't find enough grants. A number of us also work full time which makes it difficult."
Mrs Lowndes previously said the land would require a lot of work to prepare the top soil and clear the site.
The group planned to hold traditional events such as apple days to celebrate local produce and create Sherborne's own apple tree.
Mrs Lowndes said: "It's so disappointing as we worked really hard to get the project off the ground. We want to try and find another site in the town so we are urging people to come forward if they are able to volunteer if they can help, and suggest new locations."
Mayor Dominic Elliott said he would be keen to continue supporting the project if a new suitable location could be found.
He said: "It's a shame this has happened. It is an excellent project but hopefully there will be another option they can discuss with the council."
Mr Elliott said he recalled the site used to be the Pack Monday fair ground around 50 years ago, and estimated it was a landfill site before that.
For information or to volunteer for the Sherborne Community Orchard Group contact 01935 814033 or visit www.sherbornegreen.org.