Caring for the Cotswolds – to the very core!

For a number of years Avon Wildlife Trust has been working in St Catherine’s Valley on the eastern fringe of Bath, helping landowners manage their land sympathetically for wildlife.

Over the years, this has involved providing volunteer support in restoring wildflower rich grasslands, providing advice on appropriate grazing regimes, fencing, hedge-laying and dry-stone walling. These traditional management techniques provide wildlife friendly corridors through the landscape allowing insects, birds, mammals and reptiles to commute from one favourable habitat to another across a sometimes inhospitable landscape.

More recently, our work has evolved to include the planting of mixed fruit orchards as another rich stepping-stone through the landscape. The valley traditionally contained a number of orchards, but as is the picture nationwide, many of these have been grubbed out or left to decline in recent years. Since the 1950s, the UK has lost some 90% of its traditional orchards, to make way for grazing pasture or arable crops or just through changes in land ownership and the loss of traditional management.

At the beginning of this year AWT - with generous support from the Cotswold Conservation Board Caring for the Cotswolds grant scheme – forged a brand new relationship with a landowner in St Catherine’s Valley and set about creating our fifth orchard in the area.

On a frosty January morning, just before the snow began to fall, our trusty volunteer Pollinator Corridors Team generously plied with soup and cake, planted and guarded a 30-tree mixed fruit orchard. We planted 23 different varieties of apple, pear, plum, damson, cherry, medlar and quince and guarded them with post and wire to protect them from grazing livestock. Planting a wide variety like this ensures there is a long flowering and fruiting season, as well as numerous different leaf and bark types to encourage a diverse array of insects, birds and small mammals to feast on the riches.

Following the practical work, the Caring for the Cotswolds grant also enabled us to enlist Les Davies, a local orchard expert, to run an orchard management training day. To this we invited local orchard owners we have worked with previously, as well as volunteers and staff. Along with more soup and cake, the training involved a presentation on the history of the apple and a practical session on the art of pruning and orchard care in a young 80-tree orchard we planted last year. Running this training day has ensured the longevity of the orchards within the valley, safeguarding a historical landscape feature and the wildlife associated with it, as well as providing connectivity in the landscape from hedgerow to copse.

Now that the trees have begun to bloom, we would like to thank the Cotswold Conservation Board for enabling us to carry out this project, and hope we have contributed to maintaining one of the many features of the landscape which make the Cotswolds special.