Traditional Orchards

Traditional Orchards - John Miller - Explore Kent

Current Status

Old orchards are characterised by well established fruit (apple, pear, cherry, damson, cobnut) on vigorous rootstocks and at traditional standard spacing, with a grass sward usually either grazed by livestock or cut for hay. Orchards are a distinctive part of Kent’s heritage, making a significant contribution to biodiversity, landscape character and local distinctiveness. The most important sites for wildlife are the older, traditional standard orchards, as these tend to be extensively managed and contain mature trees of a variety of species.

Kent’s old orchards are found in two main areas, the north Kent Fruit Belt (between Rochester & Faversham) and the Mid Kent Fruit Belt (in the central areas of the High and Low weald and the Greensand). However most remaining old orchards are no longer commercially managed owing to their declining yield, consumer demand for new varieties and health and safety issues regarding the use of ladders.

It is difficult to assess the total area of veteran orchards remaining, but the latest Kent Habitat Survey information suggests 1666ha of traditionally managed orchards comprising 984 individual sites. The Swale district has the highest concentration on non-intensive orchards of any Kent district: though only occupying 10% of Kent’s land surface, Swale has a quarter (458ha) of its non-intensive orchards. Agri-environment schemes pays for the management of 172ha of traditional orchards throughout the county.

Factors

The decreasing profitability of top fruit production over the last 50 years has led to a significant decline in the area of orchards, particularly the older ones. Grubbing grants in the 1980's contributed to their reduction, but the decline has continued and Defra Statistics show a 52% fall in the area of dessert apples in the county between 1994-2004.

The new Single Payment Scheme will stimulate the grubbing of top fruit before May 2005 to allow switching to eligible land use and although traditional grazed orchards may still be eligible for a payment (if agreed by the EU), it is likely that some older orchards will also be removed.

  • Grubbing encouraged by:
  • Old orchards are uneconomic, i.e. crop from aged trees declines in yield and quality, expense of picking and pruning, market demand for new varieties.
  • There is a loss of skill in pruning Standard form trees
  • There is fear of injury from falling branches
  • The refusal of many pickers and pruners to use ladders (and associated Health and Safety concerns)
  • Threat from development.
  • Horse grazing causing damage to old trees and ground flora.
  • Homeowners adjacent to old orchards buying sections to prevent grubbing or development.

Current Action

  • 172ha of traditional orchard in 100 orchards currently have their management funded under Defra's Countryside Stewardship Scheme (£43,000 annually plus capital costs for restorative pruning, planting and tree guards).
  • Four orchards supported under the Lottery funded Local Heritage Initiative (£14,000).
  • Community events in a North Kent cherry orchard funded by Local Heritage Initiative (£20,600).
  • Small number of orchards designated as SSSIs or SNCIs.
  • Designation of some traditional orchards as Local Nature Reserves e.g. No Mans Orchard, Chartham Hatch.
  • General protection afforded by policies in the Kent & Medway Structure Plan – Protection and enhancement of landscape character & protection and enhancement of biodiversity – although no specific targeted protection for traditional orchards.
  • Tree Preservation Orders.

Objectives

  1. Maintain the extent of all existing old orchards.
  2. Restore all neglected old orchard sites.
  3. Increase the extent of old orchards through new planting

Relevant Habitat Action Plans

The relevant UK Habitat Action Plans: