Page last updated at 23:54 GMT, Friday, 23 April 2010 00:54 UK

Ancient orchards restored to save fruit and wildlife

The project aims to help orchards of apples, plums, pears and damsons

Dozens of orchards have been created and cultivated in a bid to protect traditional fruit trees and the habitat they offer to wildlife.

The National Trust and Natural England effort follows a 60% decline in ancient orchards in England since the 1950s.

Some 27 orchards have been restored and replanted and 12 new ones created, with some 2,200 trees planted.

The National Trust is celebrating the first year of the project with a "full bloom festival" starting on Sunday.

The major decline in ancient orchards has been the result of urban development, conversion to other uses and the pressure on small-scale producers from commercial fruit growing.

Wildlife habitat

The UK biodiversity action plan now lists traditional orchards as a conservation priority as they are home to local varieties of apples, plums, pears and damsons, and provide an important habitat for wildlife.

A series of wildlife surveys have been undertaken at the new and restored sites, with one location found to be home to 37 different bird species, including mistle thrush, bullfinch, green woodpecker and kestrel.

The project's orchard officer, Kate Merry, said: "You can't fail to appreciate what they add to our landscape.

They do so much for us, it's imperative that we try and save what's left
Orchard officer Kate Merry

"We would lose that and lose their historic importance. We would also lose valuable wildlife habitat, and all the old heritage and fruit varieties we have found.

"And we would lose a lot of community opportunities to use this space to come together and have events.

"They do so much for us, it's imperative that we try and save what's left," she said.

The project also aims to find ways to help orchards pay their own way, including repairing and using old equipment such as harvesting ladders and cider presses.

The project is also training people in traditional orchard management skills in order to ensure the orchards are maintained beyond the scheme's two-and-a-half year lifespan.

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