The Places that Speak to Us and the Publics We Talk With: Shaping Environmental Histories

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: School of Humanities


REC (Researching Environmental Change) PROJECT: 'The Places That Speak to Us and the Publics We Talk With' (PI, Peter Coates, Bristol University)

PARTNER: Quantock Hills AONB Service (Fyne Court, Broomfield, Somerset)

One of the Partners for the REC project 'The Places That Speak to Us and the Publics We Talk With' is the team that manages the Quantock Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB Service). The collaboration's focal point has been 'Fallen Fruits: Mapping the Disappearing Orchard Landscape of the Quantock Hills' - a 3-month work package conducted and completed during Spring 2012 by Marianna Dudley (a post-doctoral researcher whose doctoral work was AHRC-funded and who currently holds a 9-month AHRC Early Career Fellowship at Bristol U. under Coates' mentorship).

Orchards are an integral feature of Somerset's physical, cultural and economic landscapes. Over the past half-century, however, mirroring national trends, orchard cover has declined dramatically (63% nationally since 1950, according to a 2011 report by Natural England). Though Somerset orchard studies focus on other parts of the county, exploratory work by the AONB Service in 2010 suggested that orchards might have been a larger ingredient of the Quantocks than previously thought. The desirability of a full scale study provided the opportunity to extend the collaboration initiated during planning for the immediately preceding REC/LWEC Research Network, 'Local Places, Global Processes: Histories of Environmental Change' (2011). (Coates also worked with the AONB Service to develop a Quantock walk for the Royal Geographical Society (RGS-IBG) - one of the first batch of walks in the recently launched 'Discovering Britain' project:

Dudley's research (publicized, like the RGS walk, on the AONB Service's website) created a new set of multi-layered maps that plot former, current and remnant orchard sites within the AONB area and its buffer zone. Rooted in solid empirical evidence of the significance of orchards to the local economy, community and ecology (traditional orchards are designated priority habitat under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan), bids for funding to replant trees will pack more punch. Toward the end of Dudley's project, the desirability of a follow-on, parish-level phase became clear: the use of data from early-to-mid-nineteenth-century tithe records and maps - digitized at the Somerset Heritage Centre during her project's latter stages - to generate micro-level information for each parish with AONB land. 'Fallen Fruits, Phase 2' is the subject of a pending application for £5,970 that Coates recently submitted (28 September 2012) to the Quantock Hills AONB Sustainable Development Fund administered by Somerset County Council (decision expected in November 2012; as part of this application, Coates secured funding for the remaining 25% of costs from a bequest for horticultural research held by Bristol's School of Biological Sciences). This innovative digital resource will immediately inform land use decisions, providing the AONB Service and parish councils with the evidence to encourage community orchard planting at parish level, and even the reinstatement of community presses - an event that can reinforce community ties in an area where growing numbers of inhabitants have moved in from elsewhere.

Phase 3, the subject of this application to the £20,000 follow-on fund, moves the Orchard Project into fresh territory. Following extensive discussion with the AONB Service, we plan to hold an Apple Event timetabled for the week in October 2013 that includes National Apple Day (21 October): 'At the Core of the Quantocks'.

'At the Core of the Quantocks' consists of two interwoven strands:

1. 'Let Your Creative Juices Flow' - an Apple Poetry Event, with poetry commisoned specially for the occasion. To be organized in conjunction with Professor Ralph Pite, Romantic and ecological literature specialist and poet, who directs Bristol U.'s Institute for Advanced Studies,, as well as Professor Daniel Karlin, director of the recently launched (10 October 2010) Bristol Poetry Institute (

2. 'Know Your Orchard' - an associated 'road show'-style event at Fyne Court, Broomfield (AONB Service headquarters) that is modelled on events held earlier his year as part of the AHRC Connected Communities 'Know Your Place, Know Your Bristol' project, on which Coates was a CI and organizer of the 'Know Your Zoo' event (12 May). This will provide an opportunity for community members to find out more about local orchards, past, present and future, and to contribute orchard memories and memorabilia.

We have procured the services of a locally-based event organizer, Rachel Kelly, whose experience includes organizing the Exmoor Food Festival over several years. As she has also administered the Exmoor Tourist Association, Kelly has a wealth of contacts in the local food world. She also works part-time as business manager for 10Radio, Somerset's first not-for-profit community radio station (est. 2008). Based in Wiveliscombe, 10Radio serves ten parishes in the Quantock area (with a combined population of 100,000, including most of Taunton and Wellington). 10Radio's outdoor broadcast vehicle will provide live FM transmission (and also broadcast on-line to 2,000 signed-up listeners). We will also investigate additional forms of dissemination. An initial planning task will be to arrange meetings with BBC1's Countryfile team (based at Bristol's Natural History Unit) and with Mark Smalley, producer for BBC Radio 4's Bristol-based 'Poetry Please'. Pite has already consulted various poets, who are all enthusiastic.

The poetry readings will be bookended by apple, apple juice and cider tastings. Participants will also have the chance to try their hand at apple pressing (Kelly has access to two community presses). The event as a whole will provide a fertile environment for canvassing local opinion regarding the importance of orchards and attitudes to their decline and potential return. Feedback from this event will inform the AONB Service's forthcoming Management Plan Review (for 2015-2020).

'At the Core of the Quantocks' is the outcome of extensive discussion with Iain Porter, AONB Service acting manager, Georgie Grant, communications officer, and Emma-Jane Preece, landscape planning officer, and enjoys their full support. These activities - tailored to the AONB's mandate to conserve and enhance natural beauty, to protect/augment biodiversity and encourage community engagement, as well as specific forthcoming Management Plan objectives (2015-20) - will disseminate the findings of the AHRC-funded Orchard Project more widely and through different media and heighten awareness of Quantock orchards as a multiple-value resource.

The AONB Service has also invited Coates to contribute a weekly guest blog to its website that raises the subjects of apples, orchards, environmental values and place-based identities within the wider context of arts and humanities research on landscape and environment. (His first blog, marking National Apple Day and Coleridge's birthday on 21 October, recently appeared.) These bogs will be promoted on the Service's Facebook page (3,000 friends) and its Twitter page (550 followers). They will also feature in the AONB Service's electronic newsletter.


10 25 50
publication icon
Dudley, M. (2013) Identifying apples

publication icon
Dudley, M. (2014) Quantock Orchard Project in Exmoor Magazine

Description We have discovered mutually beneficial ways of working with external partners in the environmental/land management sector, also with creative practitioners.

For extended discussions of these matters, see the book that has emerged from the project: Peter Coates, David Moon and Paul Warde (edds), 'Local Places, Global Processes: Histories of Environmental Change in Britain and Beyond' (Oxford: Windgather Press, 2016)
Exploitation Route Through future place based projects co-produced between university-based environmental historians and land managers: we have provided a template.
Sectors Creative Economy,Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description Research findings were presented in a short film made by Icon Films for 'The One Show'.
First Year Of Impact 2008
Sector Education,Environment
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description Quantock Orchard Mapping Project 
Organisation Quantock Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Service
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution My research team has provided funded research expertise to work on a project that the collaborating organization would not have been able to fund from its own resources.
Collaborator Contribution Provision of local knowledge, working space and supervision of researcher.
Impact Two reports on the mapping of historical orchards in the Quantock Hills. Quantock Apple Heritage Day (at Fyne Court, Broomfield, Somerset, 19 October 2013)
Start Year 2010
Description Presentation on orchard research and public history collaborations 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This presentation, delivered in the USA at the annual conference of an international professional organization for environmental historians, sparked questions and discussion afterwards.

Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
Description Quantock Apple Heritage Day (19 October 2013), Fyne Court, Broomfield, Somerset 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This event, attended by over 600 people, was the main outcome of the award 'At the core of the Quantocks: Further dissemination of the fruits of the orchard mapping project'.

This event, the first of its kind in the area, has stimulated interest in replanting orchards, with the assistance of grants available from the Quantock Hills AONB Service. The event was widely covered in the local media and AHRC staff attended and prepared a podcast based on the event.

Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013