ARC’s Education Officer for Saving Scotland’s Amphibians and Reptiles (SSAAR), Janet Ullman shares why the project has become part of the growing movement across Scotland to encourage community orchards

In the Highlands low mists are wrapping around the hills, the red of Rowan berries burns through the ever-deepening evening gloom. Amphibians and reptiles of the mountains and glens are preparing for the long sleep of winter, becoming a frequent and welcome visitor to gardens, crofts, poly tunnels and orchards. Orchards especially provide a haven of opportunities for reptiles and amphibians, older trees have spacious root systems to explore for winter accommodation, old branches and leaf fall give cover to those animals hunting out the growers’ nemesis of slugs and grubs. The trees provide a welcome shelter against the fiercest of the October storms. It is common to be gathering windfalls and be accompanied by the springing of frogs from the underlying damp grass and see toads creep out from under fallen branches. Whatever adventures these small animals have gone through during the year, there is an unwritten understanding that orchards are a true over wintering Eden for them.

ARC’s Saving Scotland’s Amphibians and Reptiles (SSAAR) project has become part of the growing movement to encourage community orchards, not only in the more rural areas of Scotland, but throughout the urban centres as well. In Scotland as a whole there has been a drive towards more community growing with more traditional gardening methods. Lazy beds are back in vogue, the old-fashioned compost heap has come back and raised beds are producing year-round crops. Community growing shuns the use of herbicides and insecticides, encouraging mixed planting of natural insecticide herbs, wildflowers that will attract natures garden predators and diversifying the habitat of the garden to house the gardeners’ friends of hedgehogs, shrews, slow-worms, frogs, toads and newts.

A mix of orchard, fruiting shrubs and raised beds are providing not just sustainable local food for local people, but also a fully stocked refuge for our amphibians and reptiles. Lifting a few flower pots in a garden can reveal a knot of smooth newts, enjoying the shelter in a cold frame.

Orchards provide a wind break against storms and cover from the hardest of frosts, combining fruit growing with traditional vegetable gardening enables the gardener to diversify not only their crops but their supportive cast of natural helpers in the war against slugs.

The SSAARs project is working hand in hand with community growers to promote sustainable food production locally everywhere, the benefits to communities are obvious, the benefits to herpetology priceless. Any green corner will do for a couple of apple trees, it does not have to be spacious. Imagine an autumn stroll through your community where you can meet friends to gather apples and at the same time know you are in a haven for overwintering newts. A growing community is a gardening community with a passion for amphibians and reptiles.

I will be at the Apple day celebrations on the 7th October at Broadford Hall, Broadford, Isle of Skye (1pm to 4pm) and on the 14th October at Achmore Village Hall, Achmore, Lochalsh (1pm to 4pm). Come along and find out more!