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Concern Over Rapid Loss Of England’s Fruit Orchards

April 24, 2009

Conservationists are warning that traditional fruit orchards are vanishing from England’s landscape, causing serious consequences for wildlife, BBC News reported.

Some 60 percent have disappeared since the 1950s, putting local varieties of apples, cherries, pears, plums and damsons under threat, according to surveys from the National Trust.

The Trust is now investing half a million dollars in a drive to reverse the decline of the orchards, which provide important habitats for species such as the noble chafer beetle and the lesser spotted woodpecker.

Orchards also offer sources of pollen and nectar to bees””another species thought to be declining partly because of a lack of suitable food.

Many small-scale fruit producers are being pressured to develop their orchards or convert them to other uses due to the ongoing pressure from commercial fruit growers.

Traditional orchards have been disappearing at an alarming rate over the last 60 years, according to Dr. David Bullock, The National Trust’s head of nature conservation.

He suggests we are in real danger of losing these unique habitats as well as the wildlife, local fruit varieties and their rich heritage.

“If we don’t act in some cases we will not even know what local varieties of fruit have been lost,” he said.

The project to promote local fruit varieties is a joint effort by the Trust and the government advisory body Natural England.

The movement will collect surveys in an effort to get a better understanding of the habitat, work to improve the condition of existing orchards and create new ones, and train people how to plant, prune and propagate trees.

“We now have a real opportunity to reverse the decline of traditional orchards and recognize the important role they play in our cultural and natural heritage; if we don’t act there is a real danger they will not survive the 21st Century,” said Kate Merry, who was appointed as orchard officer to champion the cause.

Traditional orchards provide a good habitat for wildlife because they are subject to low intensity management, with few or no chemicals used, and the trees are allowed to reach a stage where they are hollowed and gnarled.

A number of rare species make their homes in these natural habitats, according to a recent survey by the National Trust of more than 100 traditional orchards.

Surveys at the Killerton estate in Devon, where the new program has been launched, found insects including the orchard park beetle and the apple tree lace bag and experts said it proved to be a feeding ground for long-eared bats.

Two unique varieties of apples located on the estate are used to make cider and chutney, with the profits used to maintain the orchards’ upkeep.

“Successful orchards are worth their weight in gold, not just for the valuable contribution they make to the economy but to the subsequent enhancement of these precious wildlife habitats,” said Poul Christensen, acting chairman of Natural England.

The government cited orchards as habitat in 2007 to protect in recognition of their importance to wildlife.

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