Page last updated at 02:50 GMT, Friday, 12 September 2008 03:50 UK

Bid to save traditional orchards

Traditional orchard photo taken by Keith Alexander
The PTES is creating a national inventory of traditional orchards

A wildlife charity has said that traditional orchards have declined by almost 60% over the last 50 years.

The People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) is calling for volunteers help draw the first ever map of English apple orchards.

Orchards are hotspots for biodiversity and support a wide range of plants and wildlife, the charity said.

It is creating a national inventory of orchards to "underpin the conservation of this threatened habitat".

Traditional orchards are characterised by a low density of trees, set in semi-natural, mainly herbaceous, vegetation, the PTES said.

They are also a much-loved part of British heritage and offer a great range of fruit.

Orchards have been a "priority" on the Biodiversity Action Plan - a list of species and habitats which need protection - since August 2007.

Noble chafer, photo by Matt Smith
Traditional orchards are home to rare species like the noble chafer beetle
But Jill Nelson, the CEO of PTES, said the wildlife refuges are becoming increasingly rare "due to the intensification of agriculture, pressure from land development and economic competition within a global market and the increase of imported fruits".

Rare or endangered species such as the noble chafer beetle are being put under even greater threat as a consequence, she said.

National inventory

Traditional orchards have declined by almost 60% in the last 50 years, according to PTES project officer Anita Burrough.

"With this loss of habitat, we also face losing rare English fruit varieties, traditions, customs and knowledge, in addition to the genetic diversity represented by at least 1,800 species that are associated with traditional orchards," she said.

Apple, photo by Harry Green
There are over 2,000 varieties of cooking and eating apple in Britain
As part of its campaign, the wildlife charity will create a comprehensive national inventory of English orchards over the next three years to replace "out-dated and incomplete" data.

The trust's volunteer orchard surveyors will be given training on what to look out for in the survey which will record the species, age, and condition of the orchards and their fruit trees.

It follows a two-year pilot study which identified and mapped 14,807 orchards in nine English counties, including Cumbria, Cambridgeshire, Devon and Somerset. The survey covered a total of 3.5 million hectares.

But the wildlife charity said "rekindling people's fond memories of orchards" was a vital part of the campaign. Orchards conjured up magical memories, whether of springtime blossom, climbing trees or childhood escapades, it said.

The campaign, which is part of a wider UK collaboration of conservation organisations, also encourages people to buy British fruit, support local producers and plant fruit trees in their gardens.


SEE ALSO
Searching for nature's tunnellers
25 Jan 08 |  Science/Nature
Bid to save rare British beetle
27 Jun 05 |  Science/Nature
Highland wildlife on updated list
28 Aug 07 |  Highlands and Islands
In Pictures: Endangered species
07 Jun 07 |  In Pictures

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