Hertfordshire orchards and apple days
- Credit: Archant
Orchards and especially apple days have become increasingly popular as the local food revolution has grown in recent years. With hundreds of orchards in the county, Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust conservation manager Tim Hill says they are not only popular with people, but a fabulous resource for wildlife too
There are more than 2,000 orchards in Hertfordshire and Middlesex but as recently as the 19th century there were three times that many. Many of these orchards provide a direct link to our horticultural history and provide a feast for all the senses, not just taste. But it isn’t just people that benefit - every tree in an orchard gives a wide range of animals, insects and plants homes and food.
The bark of fruit trees supports many species of lichen. A recent survey found that an average Hertfordshire orchard contained 34 species of lichen on fruit trees. One of these, the oak moss lichen, is popular in the perfume industry – crushed between the fingers, it has a naturally pungent, oriental aroma. The limiting factor to diversity is usually air quality –poorer air quality means fewer lichens.
An alternative name for the bullfinch is ‘budbird’ because the species has a love for the new buds of fruit trees, particularly those of apple trees. Unfortunately for the owners of the trees, where the bud is eaten, no fruit will grow.
In the 17th century, an act of parliament urged the control of bullfinches by putting a bounty of a penny on every bird killed. Bullfinches are now one of our rarer birds; classified amber on the list of Birds of Conservation Concern.
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Listen out for their rather sad sounding ‘peeep’ call. If they see you first, look out for a white rump as they fly off.
When fruit trees are in blossom, not only are they stunningly beautiful but they provide a bounty of nectar and pollen which supports bumble bees, solitary bees, butterflies, beetles and moths. Night flying insects which feast on the nectar in turn provide food for bats.
Apples, pears, plums and cherries are not only delicious treats for us but, unharvested, benefit all kinds of wildlife. As the fruit falls, blackbirds, redwings, fieldfares and song thrushes will feast on the fruit. Foxes and badgers are partial to windfall too. As it ages, wasps and other insects will be attracted to the sweet, rotting fuits.
Good dead wood
As fruit trees age, the amount of decaying and dead wood increases. The noble chafer, one of our rarest beetles, lives on decaying wood in plum, cherry and apple trees. Wasps also make use of this material – listen carefully and you may hear them scraping off layers of wood to create nests. Rot holes in the limbs of fruit trees provide nesting places for woodpeckers and roosting spaces for bats. CASE STUDY: Tewin Orchard
Planted in the 1900s, Tewin Orchard was originally owned by the Hopkyns family and is managed today by the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust as a nature reserve - thanks to the wishes of the last private owner, Molly Hopkyns. Much of the fruit, harvested in the autumn, is turned into fruit juice, bottled, and sold to raise money for the trust. Spring visits give amazing views of fruit trees in blossom. Throughout the year, the site is bustling with wildlife. Here are some of things you can expect to see in the next few months:
Mammals: Bank and field voles, bats and other small mammals fill up on berries and seeds before hibernation. Badgers eat windfall fruits and berries growing in the hedges.
Birds: Fieldfares and redwings, mistle and song thrushes feast on fallen fruit and berries in the holly hedge.
Insects: Bees, butterflies, moths and hoverflies feed on fallen fruit. Spiders hunt and build webs. Some butterfly species look for crevices and hollows in bark to hibernate in.
Fungi: Mushrooms and other fungi appear on the orchard floor.
Plants: Ivy provides a late nectar source for insects.
Insects: Ladybirds crawl under loose tree bark to overwinter.
Plants: Mistletoe appears and its white berries provide food for the mistle thrush. Apple trees are a favourite for this semi-parasitic plant.
Fungi: Late varieties of fungi can be found in the grassland.
Mammals: Although the badger sleeps deeply during the coldest periods, it will awake to forage for worms and insects on milder nights. We start to enjoy the orchard fruits we’ve stored for the winter. Tewin Orchard Apple Day
Join Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust and Tewin volunteers to celebrate Tewin Orchard’ 25th annual apple day on Sunday October 11 - a celebration of all things apple and an opportunity to enjoy the fruits of the team’s labours. The event features many children’s activities as well as a barbecue, and apples, apple juice, preserves, tea, coffee and cake for sale.
The event runs from midday-4.30pm. Entry is free. See hertswildlifetrust.org.uk/appleday for more details.