Orchards are classified as ‘Priority Habitats’ by Natural England and DEFRA, and they are included as such in the UK’s Biodiversity Action Plan. This is because they make ideal homes for thousands of species of flora and fauna. In fact, traditional orchards support an array of species identified as ‘Nationally Rare’ and ‘Nationally Scarce’, including lichens, fungi and beetles.
What better reason to squeeze more orchards into our urban landscapes?
Why are orchards such vital habitats?
Firstly, fruit trees are early senescent, meaning they reach ‘old age’ faster than many other tree species. For example, a 50-year old apple tree can have the same features as a 300-year old oak! These features – such as hollow trunks, rot holes, dead or decaying wood and sap runs – are vital for supporting over 400 species of saproxylic invertebrates that live on dead or decaying wood. Birds and bats also welcome hollow trunks and rot holes in which to make their nests.
Fruit trees blossom early in the year, providing an important food source for our pollinators at the end of winter. The deliberate spacing between trees also lets more sunlight in, which is welcome for flying insects, like butterflies, who need warmth to power their flight muscles.
How do we encourage more wildlife into orchards?
Through planting and restoring over 540 orchards in England and Scotland, we’ve created acres of new urban wildlife habitats in the last ten years. Through our training workshops and courses, we encourage the community orchard groups we support to apply wildlife-friendly, organic methods of pest control and growth enhancement, and to adhere to a permaculture framework where possible.
We recently worked with community groups in Edinburgh and Greater Manchester to increase the number of species visiting their orchards. Together with local orchard leaders and volunteers, new installed wildlife-friendly features such as edible hedgerows, ponds, a stonewall for insects to live in, a bog garden, bird boxes, encouragement of fungal growth and Hügelkultur beds. You can read more about this Dulverton-funded project in our blog here.
The role of Orchards in the Climate Emergency
Our focus on biodiversity is part of our wider response to the Climate Crisis. As the planet warms, ecosystems and the species within them struggle to adjust to habitat loss and food scarcity. The Orchard Project’s founding premise was in itself a response to climate change and issues of environmental sustainability. However, as the crisis worsens, we are striving to apply our expertise more than ever to this end.
As threats to food security, biodiversity and social cohesion look set to increase, we will continue to champion community orchards as a means for people to take tangible, positive and practical action, as well as working to ‘climate-proof’ community orchards as much as possible. Read about our Climate Crisis Response Strategy and download it here.