Press release: First ever survey of England’s traditional orchards from the air
Taking a bird’s eye view of England’s traditional orchards has enabled conservationists to put one of the most important wildlife habitats back on the map
A five year research project by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) has used aerial photographs to produce a unique inventory of England’s traditional orchards – a UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) Priority Habitat. The study funded by Natural England, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and PTES, has for the first time established the location, condition, age, boundaries and management status of dwindling traditional orchards to support the Habitat Action Plan (HAP) and provides a much-needed baseline of data from which to focus future conservation action.
The traditional orchard habitat has been identified as having great biodiversity value, but until now information about the amount of traditional orchard habitat remaining in England has been out-dated and incomplete. Aerial photography provides researchers with a unique perspective; orchards can often be spotted by their planting patterns, as the trees tend to be growing in equally spaced lines.Conservationists set about scouring 3.5 million hectares of the English countryside and this painstaking investigation has located 35,378 traditional orchards across 51 counties, equating to 16,990 hectares of habitat.
The project has involved over 600 local volunteers who, with training from PTES have helped to survey a proportion (19%) of the orchards on the ground, recording the species, age and condition of the fruit trees – and contributing some 563 volunteer days to the project – the equivalent of over 18 months of work.
The fieldwork analysis reveals that overall only 9% of England’s traditional orchards are in excellent condition, while 46% are in good condition and 45% are in poor condition. Even more useful in terms of long-term stewardship, is that this report also provides a picture of the state of English orchards at the county level – allowing comparisons of the condition of traditional orchards to be made between any of the 51 counties included in the research. The study has also attempted to gather information from orchard owners throughout the country resulting in the collection of 764 orchard owner questionnaires providing valuable insights at a local level.
Anita Burrough, PTES Orchard Officer, who led the project team, says:
“We are proud to have completed this important inventory which for the first time gives us a true picture of the state of traditional orchards. The mosaic of habitats that comprise a traditional orchard provide food and shelter for at least 1,800 species of wildlife, including the rare noble chafer beetle which relies on the decaying wood of old fruit trees. With this loss of habitat, we also face losing rare English fruit varieties, traditions, customs and knowledge, in addition to the genetic diversity represented by the hundreds of species that are associated with traditional orchards”.
Dr Peter Brotherton, Head of Biodiversity for Natural England, said: “Traditional orchards can be biodiversity hot spots, but without proper protection and sensitive management, they can easily slip into decline. Up until now, many of these biodiversity goldmines were quietly deteriorating in forgotten corners of the countryside, becoming overgrown or being lost altogether. This research has enabled us to pin point their precise location, allowing conservationists to work with local communities and landowners in helping to keep these special sites buzzing with wildlife”.
Characteristically traditional orchards consist of a low density of trees set in semi-natural, mainly herbaceous, vegetation. They are cultivated using low-intensity methods such as the absence of pesticides and the use of grazing animals instead of machines for mowing. This important habitat is becoming rare as we rely increasingly on imports to provide cheap fruit throughout the year. This has left the traditional orchard habitat, an intrinsic feature of the English countryside, at risk from neglect, intensification of agriculture and pressure from land development.
The value of this vital inventory is demonstrated by the range of practical ways in which it will be used including:
- Habitat restoration and creation
- Identifying orchards in local planning policies and development control
- Integrating habitat information and species distribution to support conservation action
- Working in partnership with orchard owners to provide advice and practical support
- Targeting Environmental Stewardship scheme options for management of traditional orchards. The survey revealed that around 2831.55 hectares of England’s traditional orchards are currently within Environmental Stewardship schemes
Plans are underway to extend this study to Wales depending on the announcement of further funding.
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For more information, to arrange interviews, or obtain images
please call Jane Bevan or Susannah Penn at Firebird PR on 01235 835297/ 07977 459 547
Notes for Editors
· Individual results for the 51 counties surveyed in this inventory are available including distribution maps
· A UK Traditional Orchards Habitat Action Plan Group has been set up and work is underway on developing the Action Plan. Natural England and the National Trust are leading this early work, with the support of the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and other organisations such as Common Ground, the Ancient Tree Forum, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the other UK statutory conservation agencies. This UK HAP Group has recognised that producing an inventory of traditional orchards is a very high priority.
Traditional English Orchards
Did you know…?
The apple is Britain’s national fruit and botanically are members of the rose family
Domestic apples can trace their origin to NW China and Kazakhstan
There are over 2,000 varieties of cooking and eating apple in Britain, and hundreds more of cider-making apples
You could eat a different variety of English apple every day for over 6 years without eating the same one twice
Peasgood’s Nonesuch, Sheep’s Snout, Bastard Rough Coat and Slack my Girdle are just a few of the many genuine traditional British apple names
There are over 100 perry pear varieties in Gloucestershire and some of the more colourful names of the perry drink produced vividly describe their potential effect: Merrylegs; Mumblehead; Lumberskull; Drunkers and Devildrink
Fruit and vines have been grown in the UK since the Roman occupation and traditional orchards represent a much loved part of our British heritage offering a great range of fruit, places of tranquillity and clues to our past culinary tastes and culture
· The Peoples Trust for Endangered Species is a UK conservation charity created in 1977 to ensure a future for endangered species throughout the world. Working to protect some of our most threatened wildlife species and habitats, it provides practical conservation support through research, grant-aid and educational programmes, including wildlife surveys, publications and public events
· The Trust owns and manages two of its own habitat reserves – Briddlesford Woods, an area of ancient woodland on the Isle of Wight and Rough Hill, a traditional orchard in Worcestershire
· More information about PTES can be found at www.ptes.org
· Registered Charity, number 274206
About Natural England
Natural England is the government’s independent advisor on the natural environment. Established in 2006 our work is focused on enhancing England’s wildlife and landscapes and maximising the benefits they bring to the public.
· It establishes and cares for England’s main wildlife and geological sites, ensuring that over 4,000 National Nature Reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest are looked after and improved.
· It works to ensure that England’s landscapes are effectively protected, designating England’s National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Marine Conservation Zones, and advising widely on their conservation.
· It runs England’s Environmental Stewardship green farming schemes that deliver over £400 million a year to farmers and landowners, enabling them to enhance the natural environment across two thirds of England’s farmland.
· It funds, manages, and provides scientific expertise for hundreds of conservation projects each year, improving the prospects for thousands of England’s species and habitats.
· It promotes access to the wider countryside, helping establish National Trails and coastal trails and ensuring that the public can enjoy and benefit from them.