Wildlife in Orchards

Red Admiral Butterfly
Red Admiral Butterfly

Orchards can be wonderful places to see wildlife – from bats to butterflies and uncommon species of birds. The trees can support mistletoe and lichen, and the grassland and decaying wood can be important places for mushrooms and a huge number of insects. Orchards can also be carpeted with flowers in the spring, providing a source of nectar for insects that will help pollinate the fruit and destroy pests.

Find out more about our orchard wildlife!

  • Are you interested in helping to find out about the biodiversity of the Clyde valley orchards? The Landscape Partnerhip project aims to involve local people in surveys and studies of the orchards over the next few years.  For more information contact the Project Manager.
  • A survey of lichens in 8 Clyde valley orchards was undertaken in 2009 by an apprentice lichenologist (BTCV) based at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh. The report on this work can be downloaded here  (note – this large file will take a little time to download)

Traditional Orchards

Traditional orchards are particular good for wildlife. In some ways they resemble wood-pasture and parklands but with different species and generally, a denser arrangement of trees. They often contain a mosaic of habitats in close proximity – a range of fruit trees, scrub, hedgerows/trees, fallen and standing deadwood, ponds, and stream. This combination of habitats within a small area will support a wide range of wildlife and is particular important to certain rare and uncommon species of invertebrate and birds such as bullfinch and spotted flycatcher.

Clyde Valley orchard wildlife

It is likely that traditional orchards were a common feature of the Clyde Valley for many centuries. However, as fruit production increased to cater for growing markets in urban areas of Scotland more intensive methods were also used. Now that the industry has declined there is far less incentive, and fewer resources, for management. Only a handful of orchards are selling their fruit, many are either tended as garden orchards or are neglected sites that have succumbed to scrub or surrounded by neighbouring woodland. This variation in the amount and type of management means that some orchard areas are rich in biodiversity, while others are less so. All have significant potential to be a haven for wildlife.

Meadow

How does wildlife benefit fruit production

Apart from the obvious attractions of an orchard that is abundant in wildlife, there are also benefits to the general health and development of the orchard fruit. Insect pests in Scottish orchards are nowhere near as big a problem as in the south of England with its more favourable climate. However, they will still cause damage and this can be minimised by encouraging biodiversity. Orchards that are sensitively managed for fruit and wildlife will have a greater compliment of insects, which means a much higher ratio of useful insects to pests, as well as a greater number of pollinators.

Species diversity: A mixture of early and late flowering fruit varieties will reduce the impact of damaging pests and disease by spreading the risk. Also, by using fewer chemicals and including a range of other native plants, natural predators of pests such as ladybirds, hoverflies earwigs, tits and finches, will build up in number and reduce the problem.

Habitat diversity: An orchard with a variety of habitats will have the highest biodiversity. Many insects will gain from the presence of livestock in areas of pasture, while a large number of others including bees, beetles and parasitic wasps, will benefit from an orchard floor covered in nectar-rich wildflowers. Features such as hedges and old walls not only act as valuable windbreaks but also provide food, shelter and nesting habitats for wildlife. Many species of invertebrates also depend on the dead and decaying wood in old orchards.

Fruit tree and Bumble Bee

How to encourage wildlife

  • Keep some standing and fallen deadwood. Stack some of the deadwood and prunings into piles at the perimeter of the orchard to provide a home or shelter for wildlife
  • Keep bees in the orchard to assist pollination
  • Keep old trees where they are healthy or can be restored to good condition – particularly where they are producing good flavoured or interesting fruit!
  • Reduce the use of chemicals to a bare minimum and use organic products and methods where possible
  • When replanting an orchard, avoid unnecessary disturbance to the topsoil and grass sward
  • Do not fertilise around trees – mulch or grazed at a low intensity
  • Increase the diversity of features in the orchard, e.g. hedges, walls and ponds, and ensure that they are managed correctly to maximize their benefit
  • Where possible, provide wildlife corridors, such as hedgerows, woodland, uncut grass strips, and waterways designed to link with other wildlife habitats
  • Retain some fallen fruit to provide winter food for wildlife
  • Plant native trees, shrubs and wildflowers that are locally appropriate
  • Add bird and bat boxes to trees
  • Leave any old buildings secluded and provide an owl box in the roof if the building is big enough

An excellent short video on how to plant a wildlife hedge produced by Ashridge Trees:

Watch a step-by-step video on planting a hedge!

UK Habitat Action Plan for Orchards

Lichen on Plum Tree
Lichen on Plum Tree

Thanks to the work of a large body of individuals and agencies such as English Nature, traditional orchards are now included as one of the new priority habitats in the revised UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP)! This is a significant development that should help to highlight the importance of our orchards and provide additional support for their conservation and restoration.

Visit the UK Biodiversity Action Plan website for more information on UK BAP priority species and habitats.

The Orchard Network website is also a good source of information. This is a partnership of organisations working together for the conservation of Traditional Orchards as a wildlife habitat.

Research Needs

Currently, very little is understood about the extent and nature of the wildlife in the Clyde Valley orchards and more research is urgently needed. Virtually nothing is known about fungi or insect populations of the orchards and there is very limited information available on the importance of these sites for birds and mammals.

Further Information  

Scottish Natural Heritage A wealth of information on Scotland’s wildlife and countryside.