A PROJECT to safeguard traditional orchards across the Malvern Hills and the wider three counties is celebrating a cash boost of more than £20,000.

Malvern Hills Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is concerned that many orchards are being neglected and wants to secure greater community interest to secure their long-term survival.

Its Three Counties Traditional Orchard project took a big step forward this week when it was awarded support and £22,100 of development funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The development funding has been awarded to help develop the project in the short term and to help with an application for a full grant of more than £340,000 to fund the project for three years.

Paul Esrich, manager of Malvern Hills AONB, said the counties of Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire boast the greatest concentration of traditional orchards in Britain, accounting for about a third in total.

“The key aims of the project are to secure greater community interest and involvement in orchards, to conserve their unique heritage and, ultimately, to help to save this iconic and threatened part of the landscape,” he said. “The survival of traditional orchards depends on active management. Unfortunately, a great many old orchards are not receiving this, either because they are no longer profitable or because owners do not have access to the labour, skills and knowledge needed to keep them in good condition.

“Traditional orchards are undoubtedly visually pleasing but they offer so much more. Their fruit can still have a value to the local economy, their trees and grassland act as a haven for local wildlife and they provide much interest to those with a passion for local history, traditions, archaeology and tree varieties.”

Reyahn King, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund for the West Midlands, said: “We’re extremely pleased to give initial support to this project. It will enable key heritage organisations in the three counties area to help halt the decline of traditional orchards and contribute to the management of these vulnerable habitats while actively involving local people of all ages in the process. We shall watch the developing plans with interest.”

Malvern Hills AONB is keen to hear from orchard owners, potential volunteers and anyone with skills or expertise that could help the project. Anyone interested should e-mail aonb@worcestershire.gov.uk.