Action: Maintain traditional orchards
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Two site comparison studies from the UK and Switzerland found that traditional orchards did not benefit many birds. In Switzerland, one species was associated with orchards; in the UK, the focal species was negatively related to the presence of orchards.
Traditionally-managed orchards are low-intensity systems that have the potential to provide unique habitats for wildlife and that tend to hold older and rarer varieties of fruit. However, they are threatened in many countries, with 60% of traditional orchards in Britain having been lost and another 30% converted to intensive production since the 1950s.
Supporting evidence from individual studies
A 2001 paired site comparison study in south Devon (Peach et al. 2001) found that the presence of traditional orchards was associated with reduced cirl bunting Emberiza cirlus numbers. This effect, however, may have been at least partly because orchards typically had few areas of spring-sown barley and scrub clearance – both practices identified as benefiting cirl bunting. Traditional orchard management was encouraged as a prescription within the Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS). Forty-one 2x2 km² squares containing both land within the CSS and non-CSS land were surveyed in 1992, 1998 and 1999. In each year each tetrad was surveyed for cirl bunting at least twice, the first time during mid-April to late May, and the second time between early June and the end of August.
A replicated site comparison (Herzog et al. 2005) found that on average only 12% of traditional orchards in Ecological Compensation Areas on the Swiss plateau were of ‘good ecological quality’ (based on national guidelines for Ecological Compensation Area target vegetation). Orchard Ecological Compensation Areas appeared to offer little benefit to orchard birds, with territories of only one species (green woodpecker Picus viridis) found more frequently in or near Ecological Compensation Area orchards (11 territories) than expected. Plant species and orchard characteristics were recorded for 187 Ecological Compensation Area orchards (total area 108 ha) between 1998 and 2001. Territories of breeding birds were mapped in 23 study areas, based on 3 visits between mid-April and mid-June. This study is also discussed in ‘Manage hedges to benefit wildlife (includes no spray, gap-filling and laying)’ and ‘Maintain species-rich, semi-natural grassland’.
- Peach W., Lovett L., Wotton S. & Jeffs C. (2001) Countryside stewardship delivers cirl buntings (Emberiza cirlus) in Devon, UK. Biological Conservation, 101, 361-373
- Herzog F., Dreier S. & Hofer G. (2005) Effect of ecological compensation areas on floristic and breeding bird diversity in Swiss agricultural landscapes. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 108, 189-204