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Traditional Orchard Survey FAQs

What is a traditional orchard?

Traditional Orchards are defined, for priority habitat purposes, as groups of fruit and nut trees planted on vigorous rootstocks at low densities in permanent grassland; and managed in a low intensity way. Cobnut plats are also included.

The minimum size of a Traditional Orchard is defined as five trees with crown edges less than 20m apart. However the potential biological and genetic interest of sites with fewer trees, such as relict orchards and individual trees within gardens, is noted. Where appropriate these should be considered as potential restoration sites. It is recognised that other sites which fall outside the definition, such as organic bush orchards and fruit collections in walled gardens may also have biodiversity value, as well as historic, cultural and genetic importance.

What is the traditional orchard inventory?

The traditional orchard inventory is available free of charge to everybody interested in orchard conservation. It consists of a digital map displaying information relating to the location and condition of traditional orchards.

For the purpose of the inventory, traditional orchards are defined as sites where at least five fruit trees must be present with no more than 20m between their crown edges. There are, however, several categories of interesting orchard, such as organically managed or relicts (less than 5 trees) that fall outside of this strict definition. These have been mapped by the PTES where possible but are not included in the official inventory. Traditional orchards are managed in a low intensity way with the orchard floor grazed or mown for hay and with no chemical input.

Why is a traditional orchard inventory needed?

In 2007 traditional orchards became recognised as a priority habitat under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP). Since then a UK Habitat Action Plan (HAP) Group has been set up and a national action plan has been developed. With existing data relating to the extent and distribution of traditional orchards being outdated, the UK HAP Group recognised that producing an inventory of traditional orchards was a very high priority.

The final inventory will provide a baseline from which to focus future conservation action. Such an inventory is vital for a range of conservation activities, among which are:

  • Setting and monitoring HAP targets for traditional orchards
  • Targeting agri-environment scheme options for traditional orchards
  • Identifying orchards in local planning policies and development control
  • Integrating habitat information and species distributions to support conservation action
  • The monitoring of any further losses

Ultimately the completion of the traditional orchard inventory will be one step towards protecting this important habitat and much-loved cultural resource.

How has the traditional orchard inventory been produced?

In addition to using Ordnance Survey MasterMap and existing datasets, the inventory is primarily being produced by analysing aerial photographs, using the physical characteristics of traditionally managed orchards compared to those managed intensively.

Aerial photographs of each county are examined systematically to look for features such as the linear planting of fruit trees and density of planting. Identification of spray lines created by herbicides is a distinguishing feature of orchards managed intensively. Spray lines are usually easily visible as lines of bare earth beneath the fruit trees. Once a site has been identified a polygon is drawn around the boundary.

There are potential problems when interpreting aerial photographs. For example when distinguishing between newly planted woodland and a newly planted traditional orchard or mistaking bare ground from mowing in dry weather with bare ground created by herbicide application. These difficulties are inevitably encountered when interpreting aerial photographs and therefore volunteer surveyors are required to “ground-truth” the potential traditional orchard sites that have been identified by the mapping officers.

If you would like to help ground-truth your local orchards, please contact

How can I access the traditional orchard inventory?

Our full maps, including marginal sites that are not on the official inventories can be viewed here. These are Google maps containing point coordinate data only.

The traditional orchard inventory on MAGIC (England). For polygon data you can use the MAGIC interactive map and select habitat inventories from the drop-down menu. All orchard polygons will be displayed for a specified county, town or postcode.

Activate the ‘List of layers’ button and select/de-select the habitat inventories of interest. Unfortunately only a limited amount of the survey data associated with each orchard is available in MAGIC.

The English dataset is available to download for free via the Natural England website as a GIS digital boundary dataset. The file that is available to download contains the inventory in both MapInfo .tab and Arc View .shp file format together with an excel spread sheet containing the data. There is also a ReadMe document explaining the data capture process and the Natural England Terms of Use document.

Welsh GIS boundaries are available from ‘Lle’, the Wales geoportal.

For GIS questions contact

What information is recorded within the traditional orchard inventory?

The inventory identifies traditional orchard sites in England and Wales. Traditional orchards are located using aerial photography, Ordnance Survey MasterMap, external datasets, and ground survey (‘ground-truthing’). The information recorded about each orchard and stored on the inventory database includes its grid reference, its area in hectares, management features of the site and its condition.

The boundary of each orchard is marked, drawn to Natural England’s digitising standards, and any supplementary information about the site, such as survey information collected by volunteers and orchard owners, is logged. This includes additional information recorded from site surveys such as:

  • The orchard – tree species, numbers, age, structure, condition, gaps for new plantings
  • The orchard floor – type of grassland, plant species composition, current management
  • Boundary features such as hedgerows, old pollard trees, stone walls
  • Other significant features, such as ponds and streams and other species of interest such as results from ecological surveys, mistletoe, and fungi

The confidence level with which the data has been captured is also included. There are many fields within the inventory database. A full explanation of each of these fields can be found in the Read Me document that accompanies the inventory datasets on the Natural England and Natural Resources Wales websites.

How is the condition of each orchard recorded?

As well as mapping orchards, the traditional orchard inventory also records the condition of each orchard surveyed. The condition is determined by the presence or absence of some key management features such as replanting of trees and retaining dead and decaying wood. This information is collected by volunteer surveyors who complete a simple survey form during the ‘ground-truthing’ process. The condition of an orchard can be assessed as ‘poor’, ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ and as ground-truthing progresses throughout each county, we are able to say that ‘x% of traditional orchards surveyed in [a county] are in poor condition’.

The condition assessment can be used to prioritise orchards where changes in management could improve the condition of a poor or good orchard and can also identify excellent orchards in which detailed species survey work could be undertaken.

What do the condition assessment results mean?


Although an orchard might be fantastic for biodiversity now, especially if it is packed with old veteran trees, the category declining (aka unfavourable declining) reflects the idea of an orchard as a habitat over time, not just a snapshot today.

For example, without planting new trees, any orchard will slowly age and die. If you wait for all your old trees to die before replanting you will quickly go from an orchard with only old trees, to an orchard with only young trees; thus you will lose a number of species that require the habitat that a mature tree provides. Planting trees gives the continuity to help provide a stable habitat for these species as well as a greater diversity of habitats within the orchard at any one time.

Most orchards rated declining can be converted to good or excellent by planting more fruit trees, providing a deadwood habitat, preventing and mitigating grazing damage to the trees, or by managing the grassland to prevent excessive scrub encroachment.


Orchards rated good rather than excellent (aka unfavourable improving) are almost always those that lack a good deadwood habitat, or do not contain mature enough fruit trees to provide this habitat naturally. Providing a dead wood habitat, either in the form of a log pile or retaining deadwood within your trees provides a valuable habitat for a diverse array of species.

Believe it or not, there are many types off dead wood habitat, and biodiversity can be pretty fussy about which it lives in. One of the least common, but very valuable types is standing dead wood, which has a drier rotting process. Whether this is a whole dead tree that is left standing, or dead wood within an old living tree, it is a difficult habitat to replicate in a young orchard. However for the extra dedicated of you, this is possible by standing logs on their end and allowing them to slowly rot in this upright position. Just be sure to dig or tie them in well enough to prevent them toppling on you! Failing this, a wood pile in both a damp, shady position and a dry, exposed position can add to the variety of habitats you are providing.


Congratulations, if your orchard is rated excellent (aka favourable) it seems like you are doing everything right to make sure your orchard will remain a valuable resource to yourself, future generations and a host of wildlife. This rating means your orchard must have a mixture of ages of tree including new plantings, mown or grazed grassland to prevent excessive scrub encroachment, and dead wood habitats.

To find out what makes traditional orchards so fantastic for wildlife as well as some low cost tips on how to encourage biodiversity, visit our orchard biodiversity pages. If you think the information we have on your orchard is out of date or you improved your orchard for biodiversity we would love to hear from you! Contact us at

Is the traditional orchard inventory accurate?

To ensure consistency and accuracy, inventories have rules for acquisition and presentation of data. The traditional orchard inventory ‘rule base’ follows the model for other national habitat inventories published by Natural England and NRW. A Data Capture Tool developed by PTES automates data input of each site, such as details of habitat features and the degree of confidence in interpretation and quality of data source.

All orchards are initially mapped using Aerial Photograph Interpretation (API). This method is not 100% accurate, therefore we use other forms of information to increase the accuracy of the inventory. These are:

  1. Information from a ground-truthing survey
  2. Information from an Orchard Owners Questionnaire
  3. Information from Aerial Photographs
  4. Information sent to us from a 3rd party (e.g. county council)
  5. Information from Ordnance Survey Maps

Information from Sources 1 and 2 is the most accurate. Also, the older the data source, the less accurate it will be.

As more data is gathered for a particular orchard, the accuracy of the data will increase.

In addition, and based on the source and quality of data, the mapping officer judges each orchard site and indicates the degree of confidence of interpretation in the Priority Determination (PriDet) field. For example if the orchard appears present in an aerial photograph but has not been ground-truthed then that site will be described in the PriDet field as ‘Priority Traditional Orchard habitat may be present but evidence is either insufficient to determine presence confidently… ‘.

If an orchard is clearly visible in an aerial photograph or it has been ground-truthed then the PriDet field will reflect this as ‘Definitely is the traditional orchard Priority Habitat’.

A full explanation of each of these fields can be found in the ReadMe documents that accompany the inventory datasets when downloading GIS data.

Aerial photography, although a very useful resource, has obvious limitations so inaccuracies and omissions will occur. Consequently local knowledge and ground-truthing are vital components in making this inventory an accurate and robust data set.

If you have any local knowledge that you could share with us to improve the accuracy of the inventory in your local area, we would be very grateful to receive it. Please contact

Why isn’t my local orchard included within the inventory?

There may be several explanations for an orchard not appearing on the inventory. All the orchards included within the inventory meet a nationally recognised definition of traditional orchards.

It may be, therefore, that the orchard in question does not meet this definition. For example there may be evidence of spray lines from herbicide application meaning that the orchard is intensively managed and is consequently left out of the inventory.

There may be less than 5 fruit trees present or the trees may be spaced farther apart than ’20m from crown edge to crown edge’, and consequently the orchard would be considered as a ‘relict’ and would not be included within the inventory. Information pertaining to relict orchards is considered to be important and is retained in a separate database kept with PTES.

A young orchard may not be included within the inventory because it was planted after the date that the aerial photograph being analysed was taken and so the mapping officers would only be aware of an empty field. It may also be that it has simply been missed during the aerial photograph interpretation process.

If you have any information about orchards in your local area, we would be happy to receive it. The inventory is regularly updated and all additional information helps to make the inventory a more accurate and robust data set. Please send any information to

Is the use of the inventory data subject to restrictions?

The traditional orchard inventory has been produced under the NE and NRW Ordnance Survey licences and is consequently owned by them. Any information and data relating to the traditional orchard inventories may be used by NE’s and NRW’s customers, partners and suppliers for non-commercial purposes in accordance with the Terms of Use for Information and Data pdf document.

How can I help with the traditional orchard inventory?

There are a number of ways that you can help with the production of the traditional orchard inventory. Firstly, you can be involved with “ground-truthing” the orchards in your local area. Experience is not necessary, we just require enthusiastic people who enjoy being outdoors. You will be supplied with a map of potential orchards together with a survey pack explaining the methodology. The amount of time that you give to the project is up to you, some of our volunteers have surveyed one or two orchards while others have surveyed over a hundred.

If you own an orchard you can tell us about it by completing an orchard owners’ questionnaire. We will add your orchard to the inventory and will keep you informed of any orchard-related information that may be of interest to you such as managing your orchard for wildlife.

You can help conserve traditional orchards by supporting local orchard owners and by buying British varieties of apples in supermarkets. Farmers markets are an excellent place to discover interesting fruit varieties and to buy delicious juice. If you have any information about orchards in your local area, we would be happy to receive it. The inventory is regularly updated and all additional information helps to make the inventory a more accurate and robust data set.

To volunteer to survey orchards, further information about the project, or about orchards in general, contact

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