Wildlife charity fears threat to London’s disappearing fruit orchards

Can you help map your local orchards?

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The Peoples Trust for Endangered Species is a UK conservation charity created in 1977 to ensure a future for endangered species throughout the world. Working to protect some of our most threatened wildlife species and habitats, it provides practical conservation support through research, grant-aid and educational programmes, including wildlife surveys, publications and public events.

The Trust owns and manages two of its own habitat reserves – Briddlesford Woods, an area of ancient woodland on the Isle of Wight and Rough Hill, a traditional orchard in Worcestershire.

More information about PTES can be found at www.ptes.org

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The crowded, cacophonous streets of the nation’s capital seem like an unlikely place to find a fruit orchard, yet that is exactly what wildlife charity People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) intends to do.  As part of their project to complete a vital inventory of traditionally managed orchards across England, PTES is calling for Londoners to rise to the challenge and help them survey the city’s green spaces to identify vestiges of ancient orchards within the metropolitan area.

Overall, orchards have declined by over 60% across England in the last 50 years. These wildlife refuges are becoming increasingly rare due to the intensification of agriculture, pressure from land development, as well as economic competition within a global market and the increase of imported fruits, all of which are putting the already endangered species they support, such as the noble chafer beetle, under even greater threat.

PTES is in the final stages of compiling an inventory of traditional orchards in England, which will bring existing data up-to-date, underpin the conservation of this threatened habitat, as well as raise awareness about the importance of traditional orchards in the ecological landscape.  In the project’s initial phase, conservation experts at PTES painstakingly analysed aerial photographs covering millions of hectares of the English countryside, locating over 30 000 traditional orchards which required more detailed assessment.  Over 300 trained volunteers nationwide have thus far helped in the next stage, surveying orchards on the ground, recording the species, age and condition of the fruit trees. 

 “London’s urban landscape complicates our analysis of aerial photography, as it’s harder to identify orchards than in a rural setting,” explains Steve Oram, Orchard Mapper at PTES. “However, we know there are isolated pockets of fruit trees in the city, so securing the help of Londoners, including the London Orchard Project and Abundance London, is essential in helping us to complete the inventory.  With the loss of traditional orchards, we also face losing rare English fruit varieties, traditions, customs and knowledge, in addition to the genetic diversity represented by at least 1 800 species that are associated with this habitat.”

To volunteer for the PTES traditional English orchards mapping project in London, contact Anita Burrough, Orchard Project Officer on 020 7498 4533 or e-mail anita@ptes.org.

November 26, 2010