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Traditional Orchards Survey

Why are we surveying orchards?

Traditional orchards can be biodiversity hotspots supporting a myriad of species including some that are rare or endangered. Unfortunately they have declined drastically in recent years making conservation of the remaining orchards a high priority. Traditional orchards are recognized as a National Priority Habitat.

The Expressway, HS2, East-West Rail, low cost imports, lack of manpower: the list is long and ever-increasing and all pose a direct threat to the biodiversity of the county. A key step in protecting orchards is mapping and surveying them, hence the launch of the BMERC Traditional Orchard Survey.

What is a traditional orchard?

A traditional orchard is a minimum of five or more fruit or nut trees with crown edges less than 20m apart, managed in a low-intensity way. Orchards are easily distinguishable from other woodland habitats because of the predominance of domestic fruit and nut species. Typical fruit and nut tree species found in orchards: apple, quince, pear, plum, cherry, damson, cobnut and walnut. 


Traditional orchards are managed in a much less intensive way than their modern, commercial counterparts. Commercial orchards typically use inorganic fertilisers, herbicides, regular mowing and pest control. Few orchards are still traditionally grazed or cut for hay but they often still enjoy a low level of management with mowing taking the place of stock grazing.

Importance of Orchards


Orchards can be wildlife hotspots supporting many UK Biodiversity Action Plan priority habitats and species. 

Traditional orchards support a mosaic of habitats: from grassland and scrub to fruit trees and deadwood. These habitats can provide a refuge for over 1,800 species of plant, animal and fungi. Long-standing traditional orchards with ancient or veteran trees can support rare species such as the Noble Chafer beetle (Gnorimus nobilis) and Orchard Tooth-fungus (Sarcodontia crocea).

Cultural significance

Traditional orchards have a long history associated with nurserymen, cider production and latterly, ‘farm orchards’ in and around villages and small settlements. They have played a valuable role in local food production.

Many fruit varieties have historical associations with specific places or counties. Buckinghamshire was particularly known for cherry and plum orchards around the south of Aylesbury Vale and across the Chilterns. Anyone for a Stewkley Red, an Allgrove’s Superb or some Bullace Langley plums? Or perhaps you would prefer a punnet of Prestwood Black cherries? All of these historic varieties and many others are threatened by the continued decline and loss of traditional orchards.

Threats to Traditional Orchards

The modern world

Land intensification and neglect are at opposite ends of the spectrum but both are detrimental to traditional orchards. There has also been a loss of knowledge of traditional management techniques.

Habitat loss and fragmentation

Isolation and reduction in the size of orchards decreases the dispersal success, species richness and population survival of many species associated with the habitat.


The location of many traditional orchards in and around villages makes them particularly susceptible to housing development.

To get involved

If you have a traditional orchard or know of any that you would like to be included in our inventory, please contact us.

Please send us your name, contact details and a date. In addition we need a location (preferably a 6 figure grid reference). Additional information is always welcome such as:

  • Number of trees
  • Species (fruit or variety)
  • Age (young, mature, ancient/veteran)
  • Habitats present (e.g. garden, boundaries, fields)
  • Current management (e.g. low/high intensity, pruning, mowing, grazing, etc)
  • Photograph(s)

You can also download and use this Traditional Orchard Form (word document) if you would like.

To request this Recording Form in a different format, or if you would like more information about this project, please contact us.

Not sure how to find your 6 figure grid reference? The Bedfordshire Natural History Society has a helpful website to convert postcodes or map locations to grid references, Grab a Grid Reference (external website).

Image: Apple blossoms © Julia Carey.