Apple Day, the annual celebration of apple growing and orchards fell on the 21st October. It’s a little known fact that you could eat an English apple every single day for six years and still not have eaten the same variety twice.
But as well as a dizzying array of apples, traditional orchards can provide really important habitats for British wildlife. Around 1800 different species are though to rely on orchards; the fruit trees provide an almost year round food source for wildlife. Blossom in the spring provides important foraging habitat for many pollinator species whilst the overripe, bruised or holed fruit in the autumn provides food for a wide range of species from birds like thrushes and fieldfares to mammals like badgers, hares and hedgehogs and a massive variety of invertebrates. Dead and decaying trees also provide a wealth of important habitat for many species including beetles and fungi. However, these are not the only benefits orchards provide. In an increasingly fragmented landscape orchards can strongly promote habitat connectivity by acting as wildlife corridors to allow species to disperse and interact more widely. This prevents isolation of species, which would otherwise ultimately lead to extinction.
However, a recent study by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) found that traditional orchards in the UK have declined by 90% since the 1950’s. Around half of England’s orchards were found to be in poor condition whilst in Wales a third of orchards were struggling. Fewer than 10% of orchards in the UK were deemed to be in excellent condition, which is a worrying statistic for UK biodiversity.
The decline of orchards in the UK has been driven by the intensification of agriculture, neglect and cheaper imports of fruit. PTES aims to reverse this worrying decline and start to improve the quality of existing orchards by providing practical guidance on orchard management and small maintenance grants for existing orchards.
At A Rocha we are also working to reverse the loss of the important habitat orchards provide. In January we will be planting a community orchard at Wolf Fields to supplement the existing apple, plum and cherry trees already growing at the site. As well as traditional apple, pear, plum and cherry trees we will be planting some more unusual fruit trees like quince, mulberry and medlar. We hope that our orchard will provide important habitat for wildlife and help to bring people and nature closer together.
Source: BBC Earth