The habitat contains elements of pasture, meadow grassland, and includes areas of scrub. As good as each of these habitats is on their own, they combine in our orchards to create a wildlife haven more than the sum of its parts. These vegetation types add to the plant diversity and create a mosaic of habitats to support a vast range of species.
Grassland is important for a wide range of invertebrates and plants and provides foraging and nesting opportunities for birds and mammals. It needs to be cut regularly otherwise it would eventually be lost to scrub, nettles and brambles. The grasses in the orchards have varied treatment. High-use areas and pathways are mown regularly, while the lesser-frequented parts are mown far less often.
Scrub, bushes and brambles, nettles and broken branches can be found in the outer areas of both orchards. These may not be the most aesthetically pleasing parts of the sites, but they too are important habitats for many species. They offer shelter and food for many rare, important birds and invertebrates as well as mammals who enjoy the protection offered by the scrub, and also provide the substrate for lichens to live on.
Although the Fairfield orchards no longer serve their original purpose of feeding the inhabitants of the hospital, their role today as a sanctuary for wildlife (and humans) in the midst of a built environment is no less important.
Keep your eyes open as you enjoy these spaces: look out for muntjac deer, rabbits, black and grey squirrels, bats, dormice, shrews, hedgehogs, the odd fox… and there are probably rats! There are so many birds including robins, crows, pigeons, woodpeckers, jays, tits, grouse and pheasants (and even the odd peacock).
Photos: Deborah Kane