They used to be the pride and joy of many a farmer. Family gardens were plain without them and innumerable children have enjoyed their benefits: Orchards! And while J.K. Rowlings’ Weasley family still owns one, their numbers are dwindling even in the classic gardening nation, the United Kingdom, despite their enormous importance for regional and national biodiversity. In 2004 Natural England set up a program¹ to research the extent, distribution, biodiversity and management of traditional orchards in England. The results were published in 2009. In six different orchards growing different fruits, the researchers and volunteers found almost 900 lichens, mosses and invertebrate species, some of them on the red list of endangered species. A similar study² taking place in 2004 on 2.2ha of orchards, found a staggering 1,800 species across the plant, fungi and animal kingdoms. This goes to show that orchards are hotspots for biodiversity, capable of supporting a wide range of wildlife, including BAP priority habitats and species as well as an array of nationally rare and scarce species.
source: Pippa Palmar, https://fruitforum.wordpress.com/2014/05/10/traditional-orchards-open-to-the-public/
But what is the reason for the dwindling of traditional family kept orchards? Apart from the obvious urbanisation eating up the garden space have we simply become too lazy? Working as a gardener in private gardens I keep hearing the same litany: Too much work, too little time, no space. Contrary to popular belief orchards can be very low in their maintenance. Indeed the less interference the more biodiversity can develop in it. It is not necessary to plant a single variety or even species of fruit. The more the merrier and divers! If space is your only problem, consider growing your fruit trees in espalier style! By pruning and training the trees to a two-dimensional shape they can be planted along walls or fences or even form a living-hedge themselves! Where there is a will there is a way so nothing needs to stand between you and your apple tree!
In Germany the orchard tradition is also well known and applied under the term ‘Streuobstwiese’ (falling-fruit-meadow). Even more natural and completely devoid of chemical pest control or fertilisers they play a vital role in preserving traditional fruit tree breeds³. While the official market offers around 60 types of apples, there are more than 3000 different species in Europe alone. Orchards are valuable reservoirs for the diversity of apple species and preservation of the gene-pool and excellent source of fresh and ecologic fruit. Since in Germany too, the gardens are getting smaller and the orchards fewer, municipalities frequently plant orchards on public grounds that need to be clear of buildings due to the city planning regulations.
This concept could be applied in the Netherlands as well. Plenty of space like the one next to our very own university building is left fallow, but no one ever seems to be thinking of creating an orchard. Why not plant a handful of fruit trees, leave a meadow under them and a couple of benches? Which student wouldn’t like some delightful, pesticide-free fruits free of charge? Relishing a study break under the apple tree would be so much more enjoyable than just standing on a dismal parking lot in front of the building wouldn’t it? Supporting biodiversity in all its aspects in front of a building in which students study biology and sustainable development seems like a reasonable thing to do. Reviving traditional Dutch breeds would enhance the local biodiversity, aesthetic appeal of the area and culinary benefits for students, staff and passerbys. We need to retrace our botanical heritage if we want to benefit in the future!
source: private photography
Orchards- a lost treasure worth bringing back!
Natural England Research Report NERR025: http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/category/23034
The Traditional British Orchard: http://www.buildingconservation.com/articles/traditional-orchards/traditional-orchards.htm
ÖKOLOGIE DER STREUOBSTWIESEN: http://www.schaetzle-family.de/?p=869