What is an orchard?

Orchards are areas of trees and shrubs planted for food, usually fruit. They are an historic habitat; many species of fruit tree were brought over by the Romans and cultivating fruit trees might date back to the Neolithic period. Not only are orchards useful and beautiful, they can also be important for wildlife. They are perfect for pollinators, and fruit trees age quickly which creates essential deadwood habitats.

Apple growing on ancient tree covered in lichen

Credit: John Bracegirdle / Alamy Stock Photo

Key features

Orchards have been used to grow food for thousands of years and the most common species in the UK are apple cultivars. There used to be countless apple cultivars which had a huge range in colour, size and taste, and a resurgence in orchards is bringing back the variety. Some orchards are even used to grow shrubs and trees that produce nuts such as hazelnut (cobnut) and walnut.

Blackbird female eating cherry on a cherry tree

Credit: Alan Sands / Alamy Stock Photo

Wildlife in orchards

Because orchards are mosaics of trees, grasses, shrubs and wild flowers, they support a wide range of wildlife. As fruit trees age quickly, they create the perfect habitats for invertebrates and birds, such as the lesser spotted woodpecker and the rare noble chafer beetle. Orchards also lend themselves to certain mosses, as well as plants like mistletoe.

Explore orchards

Orchards used to be a staple of UK life until the 1950s when mass-produced fruit became commercially available. It’s much harder to find them now, but look out for spaced-out rows of gnarled fruit trees – a sure sign of a veteran orchard. You’ll also find new orchards in community spaces and even some in our woods!

Threats

In the last 70 years there has been a huge dip in the number of orchards as we have moved away from small-scale fruit farming. A loss of these biodiverse hotspots meant a loss of suitable habitats for wildlife.

What we're doing about it

To combat the loss of biodiverse orchards and community spaces, we have worked in our woods with partners to plant new orchards.