PLANTING of a new ‘food forest’ has been completed at Airedale Hospital, Steeton, bringing with it an edible future landscape for visitors, staff and wildlife.

The 12-month Edible Airedale project – created in conjunction with community interest group YORgreencic and the environmental charity Trees for Cities - has seen 2,650 fruiting trees planted around the hospital site, and complementing the greenery already in place.

The idea came from talks between the Airedale Hospital and Community Charity and YORgreencic as part of the hospital’s 50th year celebrations.

Cherry, apple, hazel, bullace and sloe trees have been planted, and also some more unusual species for the area such as sea buckthorn. All have edible fruits or berries used for juices, jellies and purees - providing a source of free food to be utilised by the hospital kitchens or other health food initiatives in the area.

The ‘food forest’ will also enhance the networks of green landscape at the hospital, supporting wildlife, habitat creation and carbon removal. By integrating more natural habitats and edible landscapes, it will help to improve air-quality and mitigate carbon emissions. Mechanical maintenance costs are also reduced, with intentions to encourage voluntary harvesting and management.

The hospital says it will also mean health, social and environmental benefits to patients, staff and the community.

YORgreencic, a community interest company based in Keighley, has organised the planting scheme with help and support from the hospital rounds and security team.

Its Shaun O’Hare said:“We support communities to create and manage green space through multi-functional land use. The food forest helps us achieve our primary purpose to increase woodland cover in the region with the right tree species, at the right ratio, in the right place.

“Airedale Hospital has always been very aware of the value and benefits of green space - particularly for wellbeing and wildlife and that is demonstrated in the hospitals investment in the grounds.

“The reaction from passers-by has been very positive, from those who enjoy looking at trees, to the hardened horticulturist; all recognise the benefits of networks of green spaces with our rivers and canals corridors. It helps to create places where people want to live, and the interest has been so high that we are planning to arrange community activity days including guided walks and tree talks.”

Steve Marshall, the hospital’s head gardener said the project would benefit many people.

“It provides a picturesque and tranquil area for staff, patients and visitors to enjoy and also the wider community because the site is publicly accessible. There are positive opportunities to help our wildlife population grow whilst helping to shelter and feed animals.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing the trees grow and develop with all their fruits and colours and seeing how much enjoyment the project brings to people.”

Funding was secured by Trees for Cities, a charity working to improve lives and revitalise forgotten spaces by planting trees in cities. Working in partnership with YORgreencic, it gets stuck in with local communities to cultivate lasting change in neighbourhoods, aiming to get people excited about growing, foraging and eating healthy food for todays and future generations.

Funding comes from The Prince of Wales’s Charitable Fund, which the hospital says is very fitting seeing as Airedale was opened by Prince Charles in 1970 and last year staff received a special video message from him thanking them for their work in the pandemic.

The planting was completed during the 2020/21 season from November to March.

David Elliott, Chief Executive of Trees for Cities, said: “We are very proud to be delivering the multiple benefits of urban trees for Airedale Hospital and the local community.

“These new trees funded by The Prince of Wales’s Charitable Fund will play an essential role in supporting staff and patients’ mental health and wellbeing, tackling poor air quality and creating a greener, happier, and healthier environment for today’s and future generations.”