Orchards in the British landscape
Traditional orchards have played a very important role in Britain and Europe for many centuries. Their value as a unique habitat that is a combination of both trees and pasture is well known, but little celebrated.
Many species have adapted over time to suit such conditions. Sadly, with huge pressures from the mass industrialisation of agriculture, these rare habitats have massively declined over the last 100 years or so.
In the 1970’s farmers were funded by the government to remove traditional orchards to make way for more profitable arable land. Thankfully, in 2007, traditional orchards were officially recognised as a priority habitat under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP). As a result, farmers are now being funded by the government to reinstate traditional orchards. Those orchards that managed to avoid being ripped out have become a haven for wildlife and biodiversity.
Traditional orchards were rarely ploughed, sprayed or fertilised and this ‘unimproved’ grassland becomes species rich, as the more vigorous grasses that thrive with such inputs diminish. A wider range of plants means a wider range of insects, which encourages a wider range of mammals and birds, creating a healthier, richer, more sustainable and more biodiverse environment.
Traditional orchards are a combination of trees, grassland, scrub and hedgerow boundaries, and, as is the case at the Coventry Community Peace Orchard, woodland. From an ecological point of view, traditional orchards resemble mini-parklands, wood pastures or woodland edge. They provide homes for similar wild plants and animals, notably many invertebrate species that are characteristic of ancient wood pasture and dependant on decayed-wood habitats.
Fruit trees become a haven for wildlife once they are big and old. Large old trees contain holes and cavities and plenty of dead wood that specialist invertebrates and fungi rely on. This is the reason that many of the trees here are planted on the vigorous rootstock M25. These trees will live up to and over 100 years old!