Wiltshire's orchards are to be investigated for the very first time under a new project being led by the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and the Wiltshire and Swindon Biological Records Centre (WSBRC).
The newly revised and soon to be launched Wiltshire Biodiversity Action Plan (WBAP) will list Wiltshire's traditional orchards as a priority habitat.
Traditional orchards form a varied patchwork of grassland, scrub, and wood pasture and because of this mosaic of habitats they offer a home to everything from beetles to orchids, bats to fungi, and birds to dormice.
They recently became a priority habitat nationally under the UK BAP, a blueprint for protecting wildlife, which the Wiltshire BAP translates into action in this county.
A new volunteer-led Traditional Orchards Project will be set up and run by the Trust and the WSBRC, the main aim of which will be to survey the nearly 500 orchards in the county to determine their extent, their condition and what actually lives in them.
The project also wants to raise the profile of orchards and the traditional Wiltshire apple varieties, and to encourage people to get involved in the conservation of their local orchards.
"Biodiversity thrives best in places that are themselves diverse and that have existed for a long time," says Sarah Wilkinson, the Trust's Biodiversity Action Plan Officer. "Therefore established orchards that contain veteran trees and areas of dead wood are brilliant for wildlife."
The WBAP is coordinated and published by the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust on behalf of the Wiltshire Biodiversity Partnership and is funded by Wiltshire County Council, Natural England and the Trust. The new document is the culmination of a year's work by the Wiltshire Biodiversity Partnership to review the Plan that was originally launched in 2002.
The WSBRC, based at the Trust, says little is known about Wiltshire's orchards, including whether they are managed intensively or more traditionally.
Historical data shows that across the country orchards have declined by at least 57% since 1950, with a far greater loss of traditional orchards – up to 90% in some areas. Statutory protection of orchards is very limited, but incentives under the agri-environment schemes look set to start improving their prospects.
As part of the new Habitat Action Plan, an orchard at Trust-owned Clattinger Farm in north Wiltshire will be renovated and a new one planted nearby. The 15 existing trees are currently overgrown and once identified will be carefully tended by a member of Trust staff to bring them back to full health. The habitat around it will also be managed for wildlife.
The new orchard will consist solely of Wiltshire varieties and be used by the Trust not only to conserve fruit varieties and attract wildlife, but also to engage with communities.
The Traditional Orchards Project wants to find out as much as possible about the number and type of orchards in Wiltshire. If you have fruit trees or orchards in your garden, on your land, or in your village or local community, please email or contact Sarah to let her know. Your orchard records are vital for kick-starting the orchard mapping project in Wiltshire.
For more information about Biodiversity Action Planning in Wiltshire, or to tell us about orchards near you, please contact Sarah Wilkinson on (01380) 725670 ext 230, email email@example.com