It’s all in the Orchards

The biodiversity of British wildlife could be enhanced if more efforts were put into maintaining traditional orchards, something the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) have been working hard on. Whilst the majority of apples that we buy from our supermarkets are shipped in from overseas, our own orchards might be the key to increasing not just local produce but the biodiversity of British wildlife. By incorporating active management into traditional and abandoned orchards, it has the potential to conserve species and increase biodiversity.

Credit: Plum orchard by Henry Johnson

Credit: Plum orchard by Henry Johnson

Traditional English orchards are not quite the Amazon Rainforest, however they do have an established range of habitats and a high level of biodiversity. Orchard habitats include woodland, meadow grassland, hedgerows and scrub,  a combination of which support an incredible variety of species.

The age of trees vary within an orchard. Older trees often undergo wood decay and hollow out as they grow which creates a range of niches – decaying wood, rot holes and cracked bark, all offering shelter, food and nesting sites for different species especially rare species of insects. The soil in an orchard also proves beneficial for biodiversity. Unlike common forms of cultivation, orchard soils remain unploughed meaning the soil is undisturbed and has an intact ecosystems therefore very little damage to important fungal hyphae networks.

Orchards in full blossom can support pollinator communities. Fruit trees provide a feast and wildflower rich grasslands provide a substantial foraging site for pollinators – good news for the alarming decline of wild pollinators that the UK is currently experiencing. Let’s not forget to mention the fruit produced by orchards, especially bruised and even slightly rotten pieces that fall below which are a food source for all sorts of species ranging from butterflies and beetles to birds and badgers.

Credit: Noble chafer beetle by Fritz Feller-Grimm

Credit: Noble chafer beetle by Fritz Feller-Grimm

Unfortunately 90% of orchard habitats have been lost since the 1950’s which is a growing concern for orchard biodiversity. The good news is the PTES have an active campaign for orchards and have been increasing the number of orchard surveys which began in 2006. It relies on orchard owners and wildlife enthusiasts to firstly, verify the location and existence of orchards and to secondly, survey the wildlife within. So far they have discovered that only 9% of the surveyed orchards in England are in excellent condition reinforcing the need for orchard management.  Furthermore, endangered species have already been sighted in traditional orchards where they were previously unknown to exist. One example is the noble chafer beetle (Gnorimus nobilis). The noble chafer has been on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) list since 1999 as a priority species and has suffered due to the dwindling of English orchards. Sightings like this should be the driving force for orchard management – who knows what other rare species could be discovered.

 

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Alice Marshall

Recent University of Manchester graduate with a degree in BSc (Hons) Biology. Keen interest in Environmental Science and Conservation Biology. Avid reader of Richard Dawkins and watcher of David Attenborough documentaries.

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