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Investigating a wildlife-rich cider orchard

Tim Scoones Tim Scoones | 19:54 UK time, Friday, 2 October 2009

Autumnwatch 2009 begins at a 400-acre cider orchard in Herefordshire. It's at this time of year that orchards right across the country are a glorious sight to behold: branches, heavily laden with fruit, look resplendent in the dappled autumnal light whilst the sudden abundance of juicy crops provide an 'all you can eat buffet' for hungry wildlife.


Chris and Kate at the orchard

When the Autumnwatch team decided to begin the series with a programme about orchards, there were a few provisos.The chosen location had to be a working orchard and there had to be an abundance of wildlife. After scouring the country, it quickly became evident that Westons cider orchard with its thousands of old apple trees, wide margins and rich hedgerows ticked all of the boxes and was the ideal location. The fact it was a cider orchard was purely a coincidence!

Westons is a family run commercial cider orchard and has been in the Weston family for 129 years. The founder, Henry Weston, started producing cider commercially at the site in 1880 and his great-grandchildren are running the company today.

Since the 1950s, more than 60 per cent of traditional orchards in England have vanished as a result of development pressures and conversions to other uses. Between 1958 and 1992, Wales lost 94% of its commercial and traditional orchards. Loss on this scale has a severe knock-on effect for the flora and fauna that rely on the orchard landscape for survival.

The Autumnwatch wildlife cameramen were challenged to film the mammals that visited the orchard at night. With the help of camouflaged hides, highly technical infra-red cameras and lots of patience they eventually captured some energetic badger behaviour well into the night. Rabbits and grey squirrels also made an appearance, the latter feasting on the fallen apples in a bid to fatten up for the cold months ahead.

Chris and Kate were keen to see what small mammals relied on the orchard landscape. Setting out 50 Longworth traps in the hedgerows bordering the orchards, we successfully trapped several wood mice and even a common shrew.

A rich variety of birds were also in abundance with several species of finch and tit spotted in the trees and hedgerows across the site. Perhaps the most exciting sightings were of the greater spotted woodpecker, nuthatch, buzzard and tawny owl.

A moth trap left overnight produced some real gems: cetaceous hebrew character, large yellow underwings and angle shades all made an appearance. During the days the speckled wood butterfly and red admiral were making the most of the sunny weather and abundant nectar still on tap at this time of year.


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