Forth Environment Link (FEL) has launched a new fund to support commercial orchard and orchard-related development across Central Scotland.

The CSGN Orchard Futures Fund will provide co-investment for businesses and organisations in a wide variety of ways.

Diane Alderdice, Project Co-ordinator with FEL, explained. "We've carried out research that shows there is a surprising acreage of orchards across Central Scotland, but much of it is neglected. Scotland's neglected orchards are a huge hidden asset containing not only some rare traditional fruit varieties, but also significant economic potential. We want to encourage people to not only revive a piece of Scotland's agricultural heritage, but also to lever the economic potential that is sitting in these orchards.

Diane said, "This is about more than just proactive orchard management, it is aimed at encouraging every part of the supply chain, connecting the produce to consumers, encouraging under-planting and complementary activities in orchards such as bee-keeping."

The fund can help with new planting, processing, marketing initiatives, use of by-products, collaborative working, tourism projects and packaging or labelling. It is aimed specifically at micro-businesses with fewer than 5 employees and these businesses can be for-profit or not-for-profit. The innovative design provides project funding to help the business develop and recoups the investment from the profits generated, making the fund sustainable.

The fund has £30,000 over two years to invest in local initiatives.  The application process is a two stage process.  The initial Stage One application is due by Sunday, 13 October 2013 at midnight, with successful applicants being invited to submit a Stage 2 application by Friday, 29 November 2013.

FEL is encouraging anyone with an idea to get in touch. "We want to grow the sector, not just the apples", Diane says. "There are a number of ways in which we can help our orchards once again contribute significantly to the economy, enriching and strengthening our rural and urban communities. If you've got an idea, get in touch."

More information on this fund and the application process is available on the Forth Valley Orchards website.

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