Essex Biodiversity Project
Old Orchards in Essex
Old orchards are an Essex Biodiversity Action Plan habitat (BAP), which hold the main genetic resource of old Essex fruit varieties, most of which have fallen out of commercial production, as well as providing habitat for birds, invertebrates, small mammals, and grassland wildflowers. The plan identifies the need to create an orchard register to include locations, owners and varieties and seeks to restore and sympathetically manage existing old orchards and provide for the future with new planting.
The adoption of Old Orchards as a BAP has given the impetus to a range of activities which have happened in Essex over the last few years.
At the beginning of the project there was little detailed information on old orchard sites remaining in Essex. To address this Essex Biodiversity Project produced a survey and information card which was distributed as widely as possible. This card provides information and a means for the public to contact us with locations of orchards and old fruit trees, and this simple project has raised a great deal of interest. Information from DEFRA reveals that between 1990 and 2007 the total orchard area fell by 81%, with losses continuing at a rate of 10% - 20% per annum. This is the fastest decline of any county in the eastern region, and in five local authority areas orchards have virtually disappeared completely from the landscape. What little remains is largely unmanaged and overgrown.
As we become aware of sites we can visit them to evaluate their importance, direct our efforts to conserving them and gather material for propagation. In addition we also aim to create a network of people interested in orchards and we are looking to expand the existing tree nursery at Sergeants Orchard.
The Essex Biodiversity Project has funded specialist tree surgery work on a community orchard at Marsh Farm Country Park near South Woodham Ferrers; and an old orchard in Southminster which came into the ownership of Maldon District Council, and a third site close to Southend airport owned by Southend Borough Council. Enthusiastic local people will be working and planting additional trees in all these orchards.
EBP is working with Natural England to provide management plans and advice to landowners entering the Higher Level Stewardship scheme on orchard creation, restoration and management. EBP has supplied traditonal varities of apple trees to many community orchards and to schools.
Traditional Apple Varieties
There are many varieties of Apple that were bred in Essex for the formerly widespread Apple Orchards, many of which are still available in cultivation and are being replanted. A list of Essex Apple varieties has been provided by the East of England Apples and Orchards project, and can be downloaded by clicking here (PDF 111KB)
More apples for teachers
A school orchard creation project was funded by the Essex Biodiversity Project.
At five Essex schools Essex Wildlife Trust’s Schools Liaison Officers worked with pupils to create small orchards composed of traditional Essex apple varieties. The children planted the trees themselves and were taught how to care for their orchard, tasted different sorts of apples and learned about the rich heritage associated with orchards.
“This is a resource for teaching and learning now and into the future, it is important that children understand the links we have with the environment and what it produces” said Anna Rule EWT School Liaison Officer.
Sergeants Orchard is an Essex Wildlife Trust reserve. It extends to about nine acres and lies on the plateau between the rivers Stour and Colne near Wormingford. It consists of two former arable fields and an old orchard, the date of which is unknown but was probably planted in the early twentieth century. It has magnificent tall apples and pears, which are a wonderful sight when in blossom with various plums and gages in the boundary hedge to the east. Some of the varieties were provisionally identified by a local specialist fruit grower but most remain unknown. Specialist tree surgery and pruning has been carried out in the last few years to save and rejuvenate the trees.
The aim is to establish a new orchard on the smaller of the two fields, using material from the trees in the existing orchard and material collected from other old local trees. A small nursery of rootstocks was established on site to receive this material.
The new orchard trees are to be planted at traditional spacings and the site will be managed in a traditional manner with sheep grazing beneath the trees.
We were successful in winning funding from the Carillion Natural Habitats Fund to undertake the fencing of the orchard which will allow the grazing to take place.
Some of the tree planting was done by Carillion staff from their Colchester office and the remainder by the volunteer wardens and Trust staff. We are very grateful to Carillion for their support.
On a freezing January day in 2004, staff from the Royal Horticultural Society at Hyde Hall kindly provided a training session on grafting at Sergeants Orchard. Eight participants were shown how to prepare the rootstocks and scions. Over the following days, we continued with the work and grafted 200 rootstocks with a variety of scions from the old trees in the orchard. Material was also collected from some neighbouring gardens from trees known to be at least 70 years old though the varieties were mostly not known. Although novices at grafting we are delighted that approximately 95% of the new trees have taken and are showing vigorous growth.
In March 2005 we grafted a further 100 trees before eventually running out of rootstocks. We will be planting more rootstocks this winter so that we can continue to graft scions from old trees as we find them in future years.
Sergeants Orchard is open to the public at all times, please contact Essex Wildlife Trust for more information on 01621 862960.
If you have any information on the location of old orchards in Essex we would be interested to hear from you or if you would like further information or wish to help please contact Mark Iley, Biodiversity Project Officer.
Download the Old Orchards in Essex Survey Card (PDF 295KB)
Old orchard survey
A survey of Old Essex Orchards was carried out over the winter of 2006 - 2007 and a report of the survey has been published. Please click the link to read the report.
Essex Old Orchard Survey (3.0MB)