All posts tagged: wildlife

A report warns that since the 1950s, nearly two-thirds have disappeared – the victims of developers, industrial farming and changing land use.

Dr David Bullock, head of nature conservation at the National Trust, said traditional orchards had been disappearing at an alarming rate over the last 60 years.

‘We are in real danger of losing these unique habitats – and the wildlife, local fruit varieties and their rich heritage – and if we don’t act in some cases we will not even know what local varieties of fruit have been lost,’ he said.

Traditional orchards are defined as having at least five fruit trees. The trees are widely spaced while the grass between them is grazed by livestock or mown for hay.

A staggering 95 per cent of orchards have disappeared nationwide since 1950, and along with them rich ecosystems, precious genetic material, and tangible links to our past.

In Devon each parish, and indeed individual orchards, cultivated their own apple varieties with distinct flavours, names and colours. Sadly, after years of neglect and competition from commerical fruit production at home and abroad, the market gardening industry of the Tamar valley fell into decline – along with the once flourishing orchards.

Shortage of cider apple trees

Due to a renewed interest in cider, suppliers are warning there may be  a shortage of cider apple trees. So if you are thinking of planting cider apple trees make sure you place your orders early. Try to use a local supplier who is more likely to stock traditional local varieties. June Small’s ‘Apple Varieties of Somerset’ lists 160 varieties of fruit trees which have strong links with Somerset.

What you can do – get involved!

Volunteer! Give up a few hours to get outdoors, meet people, and feel great. Conservation charities like the ones listed here organise volunteer tasks in orchards near where you live:

Here is our original post, where you can learn more about orchard conservation – and how you can get involved.

This is a good time to be pruning your apple trees.

Here are the top tips from Orchard Pig on how to care for your apple trees – you can do this whether you have one or a whole orchard.

  1. Focus on the leader of your tree; height is key. Single out the leading branch to get the tree to grow tall and straight.
  2. The trunk should be a smooth cylindrical shape. If there are branches that are restricting that shape remove them so that the flow is upwards.
  3. You can remove up to 25% of fruiting wood
  4. Cut in the right place, always back to the main trunk.
  5. Be brave ;)

The apple orchard pruning begins prior to new growth after its Wassail blessing.

Further links

  • Weekend of orchard management in Somerset – A photoset on Flickr
  • There is a fantastic resource of seasonal tips over the the Orchard Pig Blog
  • Read the Orchard Ground Force Newsletter – February 2011 – PDF download

Last year the National Trust and Natural England launched a project aimed at halting the decline in traditional orchards.

The organisations claimed that 60% of England’s orchards had disappeared since the 1950s and that some areas, including Devon, had lost almost 90%.

They argued that if nothing was done, what was once a focal point for communities across the country and a crucial habitat for wildlife could be wiped out.

Another charity that campaigns on rural issues, the Countryside Restoration Trust (CRT), also expressed alarm at Alistair Darling’s announcement. It argued that as well as providing wildlife habitats, cider and cider apples were “important to the culture” of the West Country.

‘We now have a real opportunity to reverse the decline of traditional orchards and recognise the important role they play in our cultural and natural heritage; if we don’t act there is a real danger that they will not survive the twenty-first century. Kate Merry, Orchard Officer, The National Trust

How you can make a difference!

You do not have to own an orchard to do something positive. Attending an Apple Day is an excellent and fun way to find out more and meet some orchard experts. You may have a Community Orchard in your area – to find out where they are, or for advice about starting one yourself you can contact Common Ground. Many counties have an Orchard Group which you can join. These groups and also local colleges often run workshops in fruit tree pruning and propagating techniques.

You could plant your own fruit tree – a local variety will be suited to your region’s soil type and climate and so will grow well. You could do some research into rare, local varieties and help to ensure their survival. Specialist nurseries will be able to help. Try to buy orchard produce such as fruit, cider, juice and chutney from local markets and suppliers.

More information on the orchard project and details of how people can plant their own traditional orchard or get involved email:

Are you doing your bit?

Fruit is good for us, and not just for our health. We could all do something to help to conserve orchards, keeping and creating them as places for fruit, people and wildlife.

Eat your view!

Local fruit producers, particularly small, specialist growers – need our support. Buying local fruit and products:

  • Helps to safeguard local jobs
  • Saves energy by reducing the distance food has to travel
  • Assists local and British fruit species to survive
  • Sustains a local landscape feature
Apple Orchard

Apple Orchard at harvest time

Plant a new orchard

Many people are now looking to establish their own orchards, and area seeking traditional varieties of fruit to plant either on their own land, or in a community orchard.

Join a community orchard

In the past, orchards were the focus of village life, where families and people of all ages would come together for village meetings, festivals and fairs. Orchards are once more  becoming a local community focus, a way of bringing together busy people, young and old, newcomers and long-standing residents. The community orchard scheme helps to preserve old orchards and to create new ones for the benefit of wildlife and enjoyment of local people.

Common Ground has a ‘Community Orchards Handbook’ contains all sorts of useful guidance for groups considering starting an orchard project, including sections on writing a constitution, dealing with health and safety, insurance and tackling leases.

Care for an old orchard

An orchard may be large and productive or just a collection of a few trees in a pasture or garden. Sensitive management can balance the aims of fruit growing, amenity, landscape and wildlife. Even if the orchard is not currently producing fruit, careful pruning and remedial treatment can produce a good crop.

Older, and in particular traditional, orchards can shelter all kinds of wildlife. There are a variety of wildlife habitats within an orchard.

Orchard grassland

Regular grazing or hay cutting creates wonderful conditions for flowers such as orchids, meadowsweet, knapweed, dyer’s greenweed, hay rattle, and ragged robin. On wetter land, sedges and rushes may be found.

Tusoocky grass shelters the larvae of butterflies like the speckles wood. Longer grass left around the orchard margins favours small mammals, like field voles, which are preyed upon by barn owls.

The Cider orchard in blossom - Photo credit NACM

The Cider orchard in blossom – Photo credit NACM

Orchard trees

Older trees can be particularly valuable for mosses and lichens, and occaisionally misteltoe. Througout the year, the trees are a source of food for a variety of creatures.

In spring: Blossom provides a source of pollen for bees and moths, which it turn attract a variety of birds. Bullfinches may be unwelcome in commercial orchards, but tolerated in traditional, where they seek out buds for food.

In summer: The leafy canopy provides nesting sites and food for many birds. Mistle thrushes are the first to arrive, followed by Chaffinches and Goldfinches as the blossom fade. Green, great and lesser spotted woodpeckers, treecreepers, nuthatches and tits nest in hollow trunks, with little owls using larger holes.

In autumn: The fallen fruits are a good source for butterflies like the red admiral and small tortoiseshell. Windfalls are enjoyed by foraging badgers, mice, voles, and hedgehogs, and some creatures can become a little bit tipsy on enjoying too much fruit!
Birds such as jays, blackbirds, redwings, and fieldfares also feed on the fruit both on the tree and rotting on the ground.

It’s amazing what can be found amongst the UK’s orchards if you look close enough, from bats and butterflies to mistletoe and moths.
Chris Packham

How to help

If you’re really keen it’s a great time of year to plant trees, so do get hold of a native apple or pear and get planting in your garden.
See the BBC Breathing Places tree planting page for further information.

You could also get involved in a community orchard project. Find out more on the Common Ground website.