WOLDS END MANAGEMENT PLAN

Caring for the orchard and wildlife
Geoff Carr/2020

 

  • to maintain the orchard in order to maximise biodiversity
     

  • based on maintenance guidelines from People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), Gloucestershire Orchard Trust, Common Ground (they run the national Community Orchards scheme)
     

  • based on experience of maintaining the orchard over 12 years on behalf of Chipping Campden School.
     

Low intensity maintenance
 

Traditional orchards are renowned for their biodiversity as they provide a large number of ecological niches and so can support many species. To this end, low intensity management is used, with no application of fertilisers, herbicides or pesticides.
 

Tree Management
 

A range of ages is ideal for traditional orchards, including veteran trees which can feature hollow trunks and split bark. These provide important microhabitats for invertebrates, a number of which are conservation priorities under the national biodiversity action plan (BAP). It is also important to continue to plant young trees to help maintain continuity. These can be bought in as saplings or made through grafting. Varieties chosen should be of heritage or local importance rather than modern commercial ones. Young trees must be protected from deer using tree guards and need watering during prolonged dry spells. They also need an area of ground around them (about 1m diameter) which is free from competing vegetation.  This can be achieved by bark mulching or using old carpet or sheep fleece, which is also useful to nesting birds. New trees should be planted with the traditional orchard spacing of 25 feet and should be on long-lived vigorous M25 rootstock. Planting should incorporate mycorrhizal fungi.
 

In order to maintain tree vigour and health, formative and restorative pruning should be carried out at the appropriate time of year according to species and age. Dead and decaying wood should be left in piles at or near tree bases as food for invertebrates and to return the nutrients to the ground. Senescent trees should be pruned for safety to avoid the danger of falling limbs but the trunks of dead trees should be left standing as they provide habitat for many beetles which in turn feed birds. Mistletoe and ivy are present in the orchard in many trees and these should be left as an important winter food source for birds.

Pest management has not been a priority in the orchard, nor has it presented a real problem as the production of a financially rewarding crop is not the primary aim. Apple scab is common but blemishes do not affect the juicing quality. Trees can be protected from larvae by grease banding but we have not found this necessary.
 

Harvesting

Due to the range of varieties present in Wolds End, harvesting takes place over a long season, from August until early December. Plums are first, followed by pears, eating apples, cooking apples, cider apples and finally warden pears (Black Worcester). Fruit for table use should be hand picked from the trees. When ripe, fruit for juicing can be gently knocked from the tree using a panking pole and collected on a tarpaulin. Wear hard hats for this job! Windfalls should be left for the birds and small mammals. They can be piled around the base of the trees so that the nutrients are returned following decay.

Hedgerows, Sward and Weeds.

The biodiversity of the orchard as a whole is important. Hedgerows contain many food sources for birds and provide shelter, protection from raptors and nesting sites. These should be controlled through a three year cycle of cutting sections of hedge so that there is always a winter source of berries and a variety of habitats. Some control of brambles, nettles, thistles and docks is necessary. However they should not be eliminated and patches of these should be allowed to remain around the orchard as they are important food sources for many invertebrates and birds and provide cover for small mammals, which in turn provide food for owls and predatory mammals. Excessive growth of nettles and docks can be controlled by hand cutting or strimming when still at a tender stage of growth (late April). Docks should not be allowed to seed freely as they can be very invasive. Brambles should be allowed to flower and fruit before controlling. Ants nests will form mounds. These should be left undisturbed as they are an important food source for green woodpeckers.

There are many natural nesting sites for birds and bats in the orchard but these can be augmented by the addition of suitable boxes. These could be monitored using battery CCTV cameras.

Sward control can be achieved by seasonal grazing by sheep, remembering to keep young trees well guarded. Overwintering of sheep in the orchard is not ideal as they poach the ground. Alternatively, the orchard can be mechanically topped, ideally in several stages so as to provide a constant range of grass heights. Spot planting of native wildflower species should be introduced to encourage pollinators. In the past bees have been kept in the orchard and an apiary would be a useful future addition.

 

Community involvement
 

Community involvement will be important in the future, if stewardship of the orchard is to change. In the past, the orchard has been studied and used for juice production by Chipping Campden School as well as local primaries and student ambassadors from Royal Agricultural University Cirencester. Public access has been limited to Wassail celebrations in January plus voluntary practical help from individuals in the town. Setting up communal juicing sessions and regular maintenance parties would be beneficial. Many community orchards have Apple Day celebrations on or around 21st September and blossom celebrations when the orchards are in full glory. It would be good to see more access for the town’s residents and visitors as it is a special therapeutic place of natural beauty and tranquillity. However this access would have to be controlled to avoid abuse. For wildlife protection and hygiene reasons, dogs should not be allowed.