As autumn flows seamlessly into winter, our orchards are still full of activity. Windfalls provide a vital source of late food for many species of birds and mammals. Fieldfares, redwings, mistle and song thrushes, blackbirds, jays all have a liking for ripe apples, as do badgers, foxes, hedgehogs and hares. Continue reading
Bumblebees are struggling to survive. In the last eighty years, two species have become extinct and the others are in dramatic decline. Traditional orchards can provide a haven for bumblebees [and solitary bees] particularly if the grassland beneath the trees supports a wide range of bee-friendly flowers. In return, bumblebees will provide a free pollinating service for the fruit trees as they forage for pollen and nectar in spring. Continue reading
Standing deadwood in orchards provides woodpeckers with foraging and nesting sites
The lesser spotted woodpecker has had a long association with traditional orchards. Spring is the best time of year to catch sight of these rare little birds. Listen out for their distinctive drumming in the orchards and woodlands – a much slower and weaker rhythm than that of the great spotted woodpecker.
The lesser spotted is rarest of the three species of woodpecker regularly breeding in Britain. In the last decade, it has suffered an alarming population decline and is now a red-listed species meaning it is of conservation concern.
Wildflower meadows at Pentwyn Farm, Gwent
With careful management the orchard floor can become a thriving wildflower habit which is not only good for the wildlife, but also good for the soul. Traditional orchard meadow is an important refuge for many species of birds, bees, bats and butterflies as well as the perennial wildflowers on which they depend. A popular and effective way to support biodiversity in your orchard is to manage the sward as hay meadow.
When you think about orchards, it is easy to focus solely on the trees. But, orchards are much more than a collection of fruit trees. A traditional orchard is a mosaic of different habitats, the grasses, herbs and vegetation on the ground – known as the sward – scrub, and hedgerows. Each plays a vital role in the life of the orchard – both for its custodian and the wildlife it supports.
Hedgerows are the traditional boundary for orchards. They perform a number of functions. As well as determining its limits, once established, hedgerows can provide an extra source of fruit [crab apples, plums, damsons and cherries are often planted in them]. They prevent livestock from escaping and create natural windbreaks. Continue reading
Courtesy of Countryside Restoration Trust
A very rare fungus has been discovered at Awnells Farm in Much Marcle Herefordshire – one of eleven farms managed by the Countryside Restoration Trust. The orchard or apple tooth fungus (Sarcodontia crocea) – listed as one of the UK’s ‘vulnerable’ species – was found by a CRT monitoring officer and verified by experts at Kew Gardens. It’s only the fourth time this century that this extremely rare fungus has been recorded. There are only fifteen other known sites in Britain where it can be found. Continue reading
Winter is a busy time in the orchard. Once the trees have entered dormancy, it is the perfect time to plant new bare root trees and do some formative and restorative pruning on apples and pears. It is also a wonderful time to enjoy the wildlife that venture into the orchards for food and shelter. The windfalls provide a valuable late food source for many birds and mammals. Continue reading
Male and female Tawny Mining Bee on plum blossom [Courtesy of Stratford -upon-Avon & District Beekeepers’ Association]
The Spring sunshine has encouraged the bees to start foraging for nectar in the early blossoming fruit trees. These important insect pollinators play a crucial role fertilising our crops and gardens plants. Recent studies have shown that wild bees, or solitary bees, are particularly valuable pollinators in the orchard. According to a Parliamentary briefing paper
on insect pollination, 600 solitary bees can pollinate an apple orchard as effectively as two hives – that’s about 30,000 honeybees. Continue reading
Multi-storey woodpecker nesting sites
Natural tree hollows are prime real estate for a huge variety of wildlife species. Woodpeckers, owls and bats use them as roosting and nesting sites. Hollows provide small mammals and birds with a refuge from inclement weather and a safe hideaway from predators. The huge range of insect species that make their home in the decaying wood creates a living larder for birds and animals. In fact, the importance of natural tree hollows for biodiversity cannot be overestimated. Continue reading
During the winter months the orchards take on a different character. Disrobed of their leaves, the trees reveal their true form. It is a good time of year to catch sight of the many bird species that use the orchards as their winter larder. The Mistle Thrush is a regular visitor attracted by the mistletoe that grows in the apple trees. At this time of year this pale, black-spotted thrush can be heard loudly defending clumps of mistletoe which is a valuable food source for the bird. Continue reading