As you walk through the Fairfield Orchards, either with your dogs, children or just enjoying the peace and tranquillity of the nature, look around and see the variety of this environment.
You will notice and may be distressed by the number of decaying and even dead areas within the Orchards. You might wonder why, when we prune the trees, we don’t cut and strip off all the dead branches.
Wood decay is part of the natural ageing process of a tree, and old fruit trees have a particular way of ageing – with hollow trunks, cracks in bark and rot holes – that provides an incredible habitat for all manner of invertebrates, fungi, birds, bats and other small mammals. From a wildlife perspective, standing decaying wood is one of the most valuable elements of a mature orchard; veteran or even dead trees provide some of the best habitats especially for fungi and invertebrates.
Ageing trees naturally die back (senesce) and begin to hollow out. This helps them to remain standing, recycling nutrients and ultimately thriving for longer. Dead and decaying wood, therefore, does not necessarily mean that a tree is in poor health. It will still be able to survive and produce fruit for many years to come whilst providing a valuable habitat.
Another feature of these old trees that could have escaped your notice is the abundance of lichen. The lichens are so varied and numerous that this lead to the Orchard sites being recognised County Wildlife Sites mainly for their lichen communities.