EARLSTON volunteers have blasted the vandals who ripped out and stole community fruit trees earlier this month.
More than 20 trees and bushes planted by the community-minded Earlston Orchard Town Project were taken in the last two weeks.
Project coordinator Donald McPhillimy said: “Everybody in the group and who we’ve let know has been really sad and angry and frustrated because we don’t know what to do about it.”
Volunteers started work a year ago and by April had planted 240 fruit trees, 100 bushes and 200 root stocks around the town.
The main area hit was the Cauldie, alongside the Leader Water, which Mr McPhillimy said is part of a popular walk: “It was the reason we planted so many trees there, thinking everybody is going to get the benefit of picking the fruit.”
He explained: “I went for a walk on the Sunday afternoon and noticed empty shelters. It was getting dark so I went back the next day and the shelters and stakes had been chucked away, but also the mulch mats had been removed and the trees had completely vanished.”
The thieves also hit Haughend Road where the shelters of six missing plants had been lined up, hidden on the other side of the nearby hedge.
Mr McPhillimy said: “We have lost about 10 per cent of our total trees. We don’t suspect local young people who might have knocked over one or two for a laugh.
“This was more systematic. We think this has been done by a cowardly individual who bears a grudge against the community.”
And he said the group is going to report the thefts to police.
It’s the second time the project has been targeted as about half a dozen fruit bushes were uprooted a month ago.
Mr McPhillimy said: “Members of the community of all ages did the planting - elderly people, school pupils and Duke of Edinburgh Award students.
“It was a great community effort and to feel all that hard work has been for nothing.
“We are not going to be defeated, we are going to keep on planting and replace the ones that were taken away. We’re asking for vigilance from everybody and if anybody spots anything suspicious to let one of the group know or report it to local police.”
Townspeople were first asked to get behind the project in 2011 when parent body, Earlston Community Development Trust (ECDT), suggested instead of a single orchard, locals could volunteer to grow trees in their gardens and along as verges, field margins, pathways and other areas.
Trust chair Mags Powell said at the time: “In a few years, Earlston will be the place to be in spring as the fruit trees display fabulous blossom.
“The Borders was famous for its fruit 200 years ago, and Earlston is leading the way in bringing back this lost feature of the landscape.”
The project has received over £9,000 from the Big Lottery’s Awards for All, with additional funding from Scottish Borders Council and the Borders Healthy Living Network.
The town’s next planting session will find homes for 20 cherry trees and 100 fruit bushes.