The plan to put an orchard in every prison in England and Wales

A charity has teamed up with the Ministry of Justice to ‘green’ the UK’s prisons, a project that is reaping rewards for inmates and the environment

Birds singing, apples shining on trees in the sun. It’s not a scene most of us would associate with prisons. But that’s exactly what those at The Orchard ProjectCharity hopes to achieve. It’s partnering with the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) in a bid to create a well-maintained orchard in every prison in England and Wales. 

Given that the MOJ is the second largest government landowner, the scheme has the potential to deliver real environmental benefits, says Dan Hasler, the charity’s project manager for Greater Manchester. As well as absorbing climate- heating carbon dioxide through trees’ leaves and fruit, local orchards provide tasty fresh produce without the need for polluting transport – “a real saving considering [more than] 80 per cent of our fruit is imported into the UK,” Hasler says. 

Orchards also represent a refuge for wildlife, he notes, while fruit that falls to the ground encourages the growth of mycorrhizal fungi in soil. These fungi allow plants to absorb more water and nutrients as well as helping trees sequester more carbon. 

Alex Boscarino, land-based activities manager at Manchester’s Thorn Cross Prison, has seen these ecological gains firsthand since an orchard was planted there in 2016. “We find it brings in more of a diverse variety of birds and insects, as well as working really well in a symbiotic way with the wildflowers we grow,” he says. 

It has also brought in many rewards for the inmates. It’s a chance to learn pruning and grafting skills, or even get qualifications that can help them find jobs upon release – and make them less likely to reoffend, Boscarino adds. Meanwhile, some have the opportunity to earn a small wage, by being ‘employed’ to look after the orchard. 

Boscarino states that the impact on their well-being has been enormous. “The men [at Thorn Cross]Many people suffer from mental health problems. By giving them the responsibility to look after the orchard, it gives a sense accomplishment and a sense purpose. It’s their own area. We say to them: ‘This is for you to look after’. And from time to time, they can see the progress – the impact that their loving and caring [is having] on the trees.” 


Hasler claims that prison inmates can find purpose and satisfaction by tending to fruit trees. Image: Sophia Carey

They have enjoyed the literal fruits of their labours too, which include four varieties of apple – three eaters and one for cooking – as well as three types of pear, plus plums and cherries. The orchard allows for the production of vegetables on-site as well as 300 eggs from 300 hens. This makes it easier to provide nutritious meals to the men. Cuts in government spending have left prisons with a daily food budget of just £2.02 per inmate. 

The MOJ fully funds the project to establish an orchard in each prison. Staff from around 30 prisons in England or Wales have been trained in how they can plant and care for an apple tree. This project will continue for many years until it reaches its goal. 

Hasler has taught MOJ staff in at least 12 prisons in the north-west how to plan their orchards. He also enjoyed showing inmates at Thorn Cross what to do with their fruit trees. “The lads really wanted to learn and get stuck in, and there was a lot of fun, a lot of banter,” he says. 


‘The lads really wanted to learn and get stuck in, and there was a lot of fun, a lot of banter,’ says Hasler. Image: Sophia Carey

He became enamoured with orchards in 2010, after coming up with the idea of planting one on the site of a demolished bus depot in Manchester’s Moss Side. It produced a community cider, Moss Cider. He describes the symbiotic relationship between orchards, communities, as a “symbiotic” one. “Orchards need people to thrive. It’s not just about planting – it’s the annual pruning and much more. But also, even your toughest prisoner needs the benefit of being outdoors in nature.” 

Higher-security prisons present challenges: “They have less green space, and tall trees [can create] a climbing risk”. But Hasler is eager to show MOJ staff creative ways to bring the vision of an orchard in every prison to fruition, perhaps by planting small trees against walls, or by growing them in layers or horizontally as low ‘stepover’ trees.

Sydney, who says he is grateful for the Thorn Cross orchard, believes this could help other inmates. “I never thought I would be doing this type of work in a prison setting: planting apple trees, grafting, pruning, growing vegetables and looking after chickens. I thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Main image: Sophia Carey