At the core of orchard life

Orchards are no longer a common feature in the countryside. The Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust is working hard to preserve those that still exist

THESE days, fruit orchards are scarce in local communities, where once they were a common feature in the countryside. What few remain today provide a place to preserve old fruit varieties and offer sanctuary to wildlife. Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust's Tewin Orchard Nature Reserve, near Welwyn Garden City, is just such a place. Tewin Orchard was first planted in 1931 by William Hopkyns, who included varieties with enchanting names such as Newton Wonder, Egremont Russet, Beauty of Waltham, Bushy Grove, Hitchin Pippin, Laxton's Superb and Grenadier. There are more than 6,000 varieties of apples recorded in the UK, though very few are represented in modern orchards. Tewin Orchard boasts an amazing 110 varieties of apples and other fruits, many of them no longer being grown commercially in the UK.However, Tewin Orchard is not just a valuable source of fruit for apple pies and cider. In 1983 part of this reserve was bequeathed by Hopkyns' daughter, Molly, as a nature reserve, and since then this increasingly rare way of country life has been a haven for the animals associated with it.There has been no spraying of pesticides in the orchard for many years and this has encouraged a rich variety of invertebrates including the white-letter hairstreak butterfly. Insects in turn are food for tits and warblers which nest in the orchard. Bees love fruit blossom and indeed, successful fruiting depends on their pollination of the flowers, so, like most traditional orchards, Tewin has two or three hives to keep the relationship going. Windfall apples attract redwings, fieldfares and blackbirds - especially in severe winters. Other birds using the orchard include yellow hammers, greenfinches, linnets and goldfinches.By night, badgers, foxes and deer enjoy the tranquillity of this enchanting nature reserve. It's also a great place to see badgers and other mammals from the hide, which can be booked for evening watches between April and October.To keep the orchard at its best, overgrown trees are regularly pruned and new trees and rootstocks are planted to enhance the range of apple varieties on site. The Trust relies on volunteers and wildlife experts to help us keep the reserve good for wildlife and for people, including natural history writer, Michael Clark and his wife Anna who are wardens of the nature reserve.

Article taken from September issue of Hertfordshire Life