The importance of orchards
With a little over 2% woodland cover, Cambridgeshire is one of the least wooded counties in the UK. A 2005 survey found that the total land area covered by orchards had declined by more than 80% since the 1950s. A 17% loss was recorded between 2000 and 2004 alone.
Because orchards are often planted on the edges of towns and villages they are prime targets for development. Some traditional orchards are returned to arable use or used for pony grazing and some fall derelict.
The planting system of traditional orchards meant that they provided a valuable wildlife habitat for everything from insects to birds, bees and moths. A survey conducted on an orchard at Harston found 100 different types of moth.
In traditional orchards, when the trees were first planted the wide spaces between the rows of trees would often be planted with other fruits, such as strawberries and raspberries. The area can also be planted with a wide variety of wild flowers to create a welcoming environment for wildlife.
How traditional planting can help
Within traditional orchards there is usually a fairly wide variety of fruit trees including plum, pear and damson in addition to apple. This varied planting creates a longer season of flowering and fruiting, which benefits not only the pollinating insects, but also other birds and animals that feed on the fruit.
Much of the existing land area covered by orchards in Cambridgeshire is occupied by modern orchards. These tend to grow a very small set of apple varieties and the trees are often grubbed after a decade or so. The trees are also pruned every year and during the summer months may be sprayed weekly; sterile strips are also maintained around the base of the tree.
All of this means that many modern orchards fail to provide the rich wildlife environments of their traditional counterparts.