Scheme to save apple orchards

PUBLISHED: 13:30 19 May 2006 | UPDATED: 21:52 28 May 2010

The beautiful apple orchards

The beautiful apple orchards

A WORKSHOP to encourage farmers and landowners from the East of England to protect valuable traditional orchards which are in danger of becoming extinct has been held in the Fens. The event was organised by Defra and conservation groups to encourage orcha

A WORKSHOP to encourage farmers and landowners from the East of England to protect valuable traditional orchards which are in danger of becoming extinct has been held in the Fens.

The event was organised by Defra and conservation groups to encourage orchard owners to do all they could to preserve England's precious heritage.

Traditional orchards across the country, and especially in the East, are disappearing at an alarming rate. Many can no longer pay their way and are instead cut down for either building development, arable farming or grazing.

In the 1950s there were about 5,000 hectares of orchards in Cambridgeshire alone. Nnow there are only 1,000. And only a small percentage of these are traditional orchards, some of which date from the First World War.

Defra, the Rural Develop-ment Service and the East of England Apples Orchards Project held the workshop at a farm at Wisbech St Mary.

The aim was to encourage farmers, landowners, and others who have orchards to apply for the funding to help preserve them. Money is available from Higher Level Stewardship (HLS).

Grants are available to pay for pruning, to help to conserve an orchard and wildlife habitats and provide bird and bat boxes.

There is also help and advice on how to maintain an orchard and learn the skills needed to do it.

Bob Lever, of the East of England Apples and Orchards Project, said: "I cannot imagine that there would be more than a handful of orchards left in this area in 10 to 15 years if it was not for schemes like this helping to protect them."

Rural development service adviser Nigel Russell, said the number of traditional orchards had fallen rapidly since the 1950s. Yet, while orchards may not be so commercially viable, they were immensely viable for biodiversty, which was why special grants were available to help preserve them.

The Wisbech area had been an orchard haven in the past and Bramley cooking apples were the major variety.

Dr Russell said: "Today, old orchards are still appreciated for their landscape and amenity value, but they are increasingly recognised for their importance to the local biodiversity."

David Wheatley, who runs Willcock Farm where the event was staged, said the grants were a vital source of money for farmers.

Without the funding he had received, the orchard would have been left to die. Now it was thriving and other orchards on the farm were likely to be used commercially.

On the farm, he also has the new regional collection of apples, a collection of 250 apple trees that had been grown in and around the region.

The collection will help to preserve all the region's apples and safeguard their future.

Dr Russell said: "As well as orchards, HLS is suitable for a wide range of other farm types and situations. We would welcome being contacted by landowners interested in applying."

To find out more about the funding and advice available, contact Dr Russell on 01223 533579 or visit the website www.defra.gov.uk.

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