Chris Packham among celebrities who read nature poem in praise of orchards as Coton’s faces busway ‘threat’
Celebrities including TV conservationist Chris Packham have recorded themselves reading a poem written to celebrate nature at Coton Orchard, which is threatened by a proposed busway.
The piece, called The Hidden Orchard, is a wassail song written for Coton Orchard and “all our traditional orchards”.
The site is under threat from Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) proposals to build a 40-metre wide busway through the centre of it, as part of a new Cambourne to Cambridge public transport route.
A wassail is an ancient custom that involves visiting orchards while reciting incantations and singing to the trees to promote a good harvest for the coming year.
The poem was also performed live by campaigners at a wassail ceremony in Coton Orchard to encourage a good growing year and highlight the beauty of the orchard.
Anna Gazeley, whose family owns the orchard, said: “I’m delighted we have managed to get some wonderful celebrities to record the wassail poem to help us celebrate the orchard and traditional orchards throughout the UK.
“Although they are not part of the campaign against the busway, I think it will encourage people to seek out the orchard and see how wonderful it is and what could be lost here. We have already had recordings made by Chris Packham, the actress Jenny Seagrove and the presenter Martha Kearney.
“I’ve never attended a wassail before but it was wonderful. We just really wanted to try and revive an ancient tradition to save an ancient orchard to make the community a little bit more aware of what will be lost here.”
Anna hopes videos of the celebrities, who recorded themselves performing the poem on their phones, will soon be edited and ready to show on social media.
Debbie Whitton Spriggs, who composed the wassail poem for the orchard, wrote in a description of the event: “As the sun set on a crisp, clear winter day, Coton Orchard held its first ever wassail. Led by the Wassail King and Queen, guests processed through the trees, partook of mulled cider and apple cake, then performed a rousing wassail poem written specially for the occasion. In keeping with ancient tradition, there was much hollering and banging to scare away pestilential forces, and toasting and blessing of trees to invoke bounty and protection.”
The GCP aims to install a £200million off-road busway running from Hardwick to Grange Road on the western edge of the city, which it says will “significantly improve bus and active travel journeys between Cambridge and Cambourne via the new Bourn Airfield development, a new travel hub at Scotland Farm, Hardwick and West Cambridge campus”.
Campaigners, supported by Cambridge Past, Present & Future (PPF), Coton Parish Council, Coton Busway Action Group, Coton Loves Pollinators, Hardwick Parish Council and Save the West Fields have called on the GCP to rethink the plans, which they said in a petition would cause “unnecessary destruction to an important green corridor and historic orchard”.
Anna added: “The wassail ceremony was spectacular. We had the village processing through the orchard with flaming torches led by a piper. Mostly it was about having fun and showing gratitude for people that had helped and supported us but it was also a chance to show them what 40 metres look like, because that is the size of the road that will cut through the orchard.
“We showed them what 520 trees looks like and asked them to imagine them being cut down. There were buzzards flying overhead, deers wandering around. People were realising, ‘Oh my gooodness, we can’t let this disappear!”