Apple trees provide habitats for wildlife

MORE than 50 apple trees have been planted at Montacute House, expanding orchards that provide vital habitat for wildlife in the south west. The trees are part of the Tidnor National Collection of more than 150 varieties, which was saved by the National Trust in 2016.

Orchards have been planted at Barrington Court and Tintinhull Garden as well as Montacute House. The fruit is turned into apple juice and traditional craft cider. They are also important for wildlife. With around two-thirds of Britain’s orchards lost since the 1960s, the survivors are an even more precious resource. In 2007, traditional orchards were designated a priority habitat under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

Traditional orchards, which are not treated with pesticides, often contain very old trees that support species such as mistletoe or the rare noble chafer beetle. Wildflower meadows can grow underneath the trees, encouraging pollinators in the spring, and be cut for hay in the autumn. Rangers and volunteer teams can encourage insect-eating birds to nest in the trees to help keep pests down.

Lead ranger Mark Musgrave says: “These orchards are a key part of our conservation work. Managing them in a traditional way, using grazing animals but leaving plenty of areas undisturbed, ensures we have habitats and food for a wide variety of species.”

Wash Lane orchard in Montacute is a prime example of how the Trust’s conservation work can make a difference. This historic orchard has some mature fruit trees, a stream, some ancient willow pollards and a dilapidated drystone wall. The site is being developed for child-friendly wildlife walks, with grass left long throughout the summer and refuges such as bug hotels and special hiding places created to attract and house different species. Slow worms, common blue butterflies and fresh water shrimps have all made it their home.

Keri Phillips, the Trust’s South Somerset properties general manager, says: “Conservation is at the heart of what we do. Making the land better for nature and creating new habitats ensures everyone benefits. Somerset was once filled with orchards, and by maintaining and replanting we continue the traditions of the past and retain the character of the Somerset countryside.”

Pictured: Keri Phillips, the Trust’s South Somerset general manager, and lead ranger Mark Musgrave, planting apple tree, Sheep’s Nose, in orchards at Montacute House ©National Trust/Clare Gascoigne; View along the main drive at Montacute, Somerset © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey