A COMMUNITY orchard is to be established in Ilkley to provide free fruit and help the environment.

Climate Action Ilkley is hoping to start planting trees next month - although this depends on getting permission from Bradford Council in time.

The group intends to plant 25 trees across two sites initially, with more planned for the future.

A team of 16 people has been working for the past ten months on getting a community orchard started. They will plant apples, pears and plums in the first tranch, concentrating on local and heritage varieties. They intend to plant more types of fruit trees in the future and possibly nuts.

They are planning to create the orchard on two two sites, at East Holmes Field, between the river and the rugby club, and at the end of the playing field at Ben Rhydding behind the Esso

Garage and the Factory Shop. The sites have been approved by Bradford Council's parks and woodlands departments and the scheme is now awaiting final permission from other Bradford Council departments.

The plans were outlined at a meeting of Ilkley Parish Council this week by project co-ordinator Kath Steward.

She asked the council to endorse the scheme and to help liaise with Bradford Council - but she stressed she was not asking for money at this stage. The council agreed to offer its full co-operation and support.

Ms Steward stressed there would be no restrictions on entering the orchard, which would not be fenced off.

She told the meeting: "Community Orchards can be beautiful, peaceful spaces once they are

established. Our vision is to create an organic orchard without the use of pesticides. This will require planting of wildflowers, bulbs and shrubs to help attract pollinators and beneficial predator insects."

She said the fruit would be freely available for anyone to pick or to distribute to the community.

Mr Steward told the meeting: "Community Orchards are becoming increasingly popular both in urban and more rural communities. They have been shown to improve social isolation and mental health by encouraging a community to meet and do something together, encourage healthy eating, improve physical fitness and create the opportunity to learn new skills.

"The orchard can be used as an outdoor classroom for local schools. We are already in discussions with Outside the Box as to how we can involve their members in this project and we intend to publicise it to LS29 and the Wharfedale Well-being group."

She added: "A Community Orchard is consistent with the Ilkley Sustainability Plan. It would be a source of local food once it is up and running, it is also a carbon sink and although we only plan to plant 25 trees initially we plan to increase this in the future."

The scheme has already attracted funding from local businesses and individuals. The group has also received a grant from the Ilkley Freemasons, which was the first organisation to take an interest in this project. Money has also come from Addingham Beer Festival.

Anyone interested in helping with the community orchard, or who would like to sponsor a tree should contact Kath Steward at climateactionilkley@gmail.com.