Most of the farms in our area used to have small “home orchards”, but in recent years many have been grubbed out or neglected. The Orchard for the Future project started in 2011 and aims to reintroduce a range of heritage varieties of fruit that are no longer available in the shops.
The main part of the Orchard is the long grass strip between the tarmac roadway on Wapley Common and the boundary hedge. We have planted three groups of traditional apple trees here. Each group includes one crab apple tree that acts as a “universal pollinator”.
Local people also gave us several horse chestnut trees, and we have planted them near the Besom Lane gate.
As well as the fruit trees, grassland management has been important. For years we kept this area long until the end of the summer, with just a mown path for dog walkers. Nowadays we only cut a third of the grass each year, by rotation.
The uncut grass falls and produces a grassy mat. This is an ideal environment for small mammals such as mice, shrews and voles. They become a food source for owls (“owl takeaways”), attracting tawny owls to nest in the nearby woodland fringe.
This cutting regime has also encouraged butterflies and moths, and the range of flower species is increasing.
Pollinators and Bug Hotels
To encourage pollinating insects, we have installed three bug hotels (“pollinator palaces”?) along the hedgeline.
Local Brownies and Guides “furnished” one of the bug hotels – it even has a roof garden and a coffee bar!
Just a few days after we installed the bug hotels, leaf cutter bees started laying eggs in the holes drilled in the uprights. They insert pollen or nectar as food, lay an egg, then plug the “cell” with a circular section of leaf.
Then they lay another egg, put in another leaf plug, and so on. If the larvae start to hatch on a rainy day, the weather only affects that batch. The remainder hatch over a period of days.
Other parts of the Orchard for the Future
There are two other parts of the Orchard for the Future. We pruned back some old plum trees in front of the cottages on the other side of Besom Lane – they looked as if they hadn’t had attention for many years. Now they have produce bumper crops of a local variety called the Frampton Magna. We also planted other traditional species such as medlars here.
More recently we noticed that several wild pear trees were growing well at the bottom of the Lower Meadow, so we have planted a range of heritage variety pear trees in the hedgeline.
All the fruit in the Orchard for the Future is available for visitors to pick, but we ask that people wait until it’s properly ripe. Otherwise the fruit will be hard or sour. We also ask them to take just enough for a snack, and leave the rest for other people to enjoy.
We are very grateful for advice from Wildlife Educator and Owl Specialist Ian McGuire – check out his web page to find out more about owls and the habitats they like.