Orchards and wildlife

Traditional orchards are often grazed by cattle, sheep or poultry, and chemical pesticides and fertilisers are rarely used. The trees are long-lived and reach the veteran, gnarled, stage with hollows and decaying wood.

The combination of fruit trees, the grassland on the floor of the orchard and hedgerow boundaries or scrub mean that these orchards resemble mini-parklands or wood pastures and they provide homes for the same kinds of wild plants and animals. The main fruit trees found in traditional orchards are apple, pear, plum and cherry.

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Like wood pastures and parklands, traditional orchards can occur on a wide range of soil types from slightly acid, relatively infertile soils to fertile river floodplain, and lime rich soils. Orchards can be found on slopes ranging from steep to level, and with any aspect. Generally, sites do not have badly impeded drainage, although locally, within sites, there may be wetter areas.

Traditional orchards are found only in the lowland landscape in England, on land below the altitudinal limit of enclosure (ie below the ‘moor wall’). In Cornwall they were widely distributed, especially in the shelter of valleys, but rarely found in the granite uplands.

Traditional orchards are hotspots for biodiversity in the countryside, supporting a wide range of wildlife and habitats and species, as well as an array of nationally rare and nationally scarce species. This richness is illustrated by the results of an intensive study of a set of three traditional orchards in the Wyre Forest SSSI in 2004, the first of its kind in the UK. The orchards only cover a total area of 5.4 hectares, yet the survey found over 1,800 species from across the plant, fungi and animal kingdoms.

The Cornwall Biodiversity Initiative are preparing a Local Biodiversity Action Plan (LBAP) for traditional orchards in Cornwall.