England’s orchards in poor condition

The orchard-a peaceful pastoral scene of well-rounded, fruit-laden trees supporting a host of bees, birds and butterflies-is integral to the English summer idyll of popular imagination, yet the reality is that the tradition has declined by about 63% since 1950 and much of the fruit we eat is imported from abroad. A major inventory of orchards, by Natural England and the Peoples’ Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), finds that only 9% of England’s orchards are in excellent condition and that 45% are in poor condition.

The data will be used to monitor orchard creation and restoration, to inform planning officers and to press for an increased focus on them in agri-environmental schemes; currently, only 6,995 acres out of about 42,000 come under such schemes. ‘The bottom line is we’re relying on cheap imports of fruit,’ says Anita Burrough of PTES.

‘The current incentives are not enough. We need to push the idea of buying local fruit, which is much more interesting anyway.’ Traditional orchard habitat was recognised as a Priority Habitat under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan; a study revealed three orchards in Worcestershire hosted 1,868 species.