Orchards East, a three-year Heritage Lottery funded project that operates across Eastern England, has started a biodiversity survey of a select number of orchards across the east, including our own Fairfield Orchards. 

They are surveying, principally, the features of orchards that make the habitat so characteristic – their trees. Pears, apples and plums are all members of the flowering plant family Rosaceae, which are very different from the trees in our native woodlands – oak, ash, beech, hornbeam, and so on. The only common native woodland trees that are also Rosaceae are hawthorn and blackthorn (sloe).

 As a result, much of the wildlife found in, on, and around our orchard trees – from aphids to galls and wood-boring beetles to wood-rotting fungi – are highly specialised species restricted to these trees. 

The surveys are therefore focusing on the trees and in particular the many invertebrates that depend on these trees for food and habitat, and also the epiphytes, mosses, lichens and others that live on the trees. Invertebrates may eat the trees themselves, the fungus that decays the trees, or predate other animals living on the trees. 

About 70 different orchards in the eastern region were considered, from which 20 are being surveyed in various ways. Selection criteria included the age of trees; location across the six counties; species of trees present and the purpose for which the orchards were created. They may be farmstead sites (these are most frequently found), grand parks, institutional orchards, community sites, old nursery orchards, commercial sites with an emphasis on traditional trees, and unsprayed sites. 

The project started in Spring this year and continues until August 2020. It commenced with an exercise in trapping flying insects, and a detailed invertebrate survey of the leaf, wood and fungus eaters and their invertebrate predators. This winter epiphytes (mosses, liverworts and lichens) will be surveyed, and throughout the whole project an overall picture will be constructed of each orchard, its hedges, ground flora, general setting and history.

This information is taken from the regular bulletin of the Orchards East, a three-year Heritage Lottery funded project in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk.