Holly and the Ivy
The Old Country Farm in Malvern used to be an arable
farm, grazing sheep and growing apples for sale to the thriving Herefordshire
cider industry. Now it's a mecca for winter wildlife especially birds.
|Bird spectacle in the winter
Traditional orchards are great for wildlife
- even small orchards can support more than 1,400 species of animals, plants and
fungi, including 70 species of birds.
But they're fast becoming a relatively
rare habitat in the UK - in the last 50 years alone we've lost more than half
In Kent and Devon they've all but disappeared, but there
are two farms dedicated to preserving their orchard habitats.
The Old Country
Farm is one exception - of its 220 acres spanning the Worcestershire countryside,
45 acres of the old farm are dedicated to orchards which produce enough spare
fruit to sustain a wide range of wildlife.
If you're in the neighbourhood,
the nearby Tillington Fruit Farm, three miles north of Hereford, is another great
site for wildlife watching.
Part-owned by the Co-op supermarket chain (thanks
to a rare breed of apple which grows there and is used in their own brand cider),
the orchards are home to numerous species of birds, insects and plant life.
our national bird in 1960, the red-breasted Robin is a woodland favourite.
associated with Christmas, Robins sing all year round apart from a brief spell
in summer during moulting season when they become much more retiring.
despite its loveable persona, the Robin is actually fiercely territorial and the
male will be aggressive to any other Robin which intrudes on his space, even a
It's thought that this is where the poem "Who killed Cock Robin"
came from, although the poem depicts a Robin fighting with a sparrow rather than
another of its own.
It's very difficult to tell the sexes apart as both
are small and plump with a white belly and an orangey-red breast, face, throat
and cheeks and brown bill and legs.
However it has been suggested that their
brown forehead is shaped like a V in females and like a U in males, but this isn't
100 per cent reliable and can be hard to spot.
perch on the sides of trees away from the observer, but are often given away by
the repetitive drumming of their beaks on the trunk.
As parts of the trees
rot, the holes which develop become full of insects and grubs, which attract Woodpeckers
who feast on whatever is crawling around inside.
Like the cartoon "Woody
the Woodpecker", these birds can be recognised from their striking black
and white plumage, while the males have a distinctive red patch on the back of
Blackbirds are often seen in winter when they fly over from Scandinavia
to roost in shrubs, trees and hedges, all of which harbour insects, worms and
berries for them to feed on.
They're often found in orchards, hopping along
the ground turning over leaf litter with their bills and snatching up worms from
Blackbirds were once considered a delicacy, which is where
the popular children's rhyme about the King eating "four-and-twenty blackbirds
baked in a pie" comes from.
As their name suggests, they're entirely
black, although the female is a brown colour with rusty spots and streaks on the
The male of the species is also much bigger, with a bright orangey-yellow
beak and a ring around the eye in a similar colour.
Blackbirds, most of the Fieldfares that arrive in Britain in winter come from
Scandinavia and other areas of Europe.
Some of the birds that arrive here
use us as a stopover before flying on to Ireland or Eastern France, where they
return to breed in Spring.
The majority don't return to the UK every year
- in fact only Fieldfares from Norway remain faithful to our British winters.
are easily spotted by their contrasting grey head and rump, with white underwings
clearly visible in flight.
Another Scandinavian tourist are Redwing, which are commonly spotted in gardens
and parks during winter as they go into urban areas to search for food.
easily distinguished from other birds by a white stripe above their eye and a
flash of red underneath their wings, which is where they get their name,
is also a distinct population from Iceland which looks different from the others
- it is darker, larger and with bolder streaks on its chest.
Blackcap only recently started wintering in the UK, where it feeds on mistletoe.
the thrush, Blackcaps actually wipe their beaks on the bark after eating, which
is now to be the most effective way of spreading the sticky seed of this plant.
species is so-called because the male, predominantly grey, has a black cap, while
the female's is more of a chestnut colour.
Often referred to as "the
northern Nightingale", this woodland bird has a fluting song, which is contract
to its call which is a shorter, more staccato sound.
A northern relative
of the Chaffinch, Bramblings are a regular visitor to Britain every winter.
from the Chaffinch by its white rump and orange buff colour, the brambling takes
it name from the world Brandling, meaning a brindled pattern.
its tortoiseshell colours make for ideal camouflage as it hops along the woodland
The Mistlethrush is the Common Thrush's bolder relative, flying
between the trees calling out to its flock with its distinctive dry, rattling
It's even been nicknamed a "stormcock" because they call
out to each other loudly during bad weather.
Mistlethrushes are mostly greyish
brown with pale buff breast and flanks covered in bold black spots.
seen from a distance or in flight it's best to look at their wings, which have
pale edges and are completely white on the underside.
Like the Robin, a
Mistlethrush can also be territorial when feeding, defending its food source (usually
bushes and trees bearing mistletoe and other berries) from other thrushes.
most people don't know about this popular seasonal plant is that it's actually
semi-parasitic, extracting the minerals it needs to live from the trees on which
Preferring lime and apple trees with soft bark, Mistletoe is
often found in orchards where its sticky seeds are spread by passing birds feeding
on its berries.
In fact it's even been discovered that the plant grew on
34 per cent of the apple trees in Herefordshire in the mid-19th Century.
generally easier to spot in winter when the trees are bare as mistletoe grows
high up on the tree, to avoid being rubbed off or eaten by grazing animals.
has two separate male and female plants, with the male having golden flowers in
spring and the female white berries in winter.
The formation of white berries
between inverted V-shaped sprigs is said to be a symbol of fertility, and throughout
history women wishing to conceive would to tie a sprig around their waist or wrist
to have a better chance of bearing a child.
We know Mistletoe as a Christmas
tradition, bringing good luck to anyone who shares a kiss under a spring hanging
from a doorway, but early Christians believed Mistletoe was banished to the tops
of the trees when Jesus was crucified on a cross made from an apple tree on which
But in Herefordshire, Mistletoe is still considered to bring good
luck, which is still observed on New Year's Eve when a bough is cut and hung on
the door as the clock strikes midnight.
and the Ivy
is more common in Britain than anywhere else in the world and is displayed in
wreaths at Christmas.
Like Mistletoe, Holly has its fair share of religious
references, as it's believed the spikes of the leaves represent Jesus' crown of
thorns, and the red berries his blood.
Holly is also thought to bring good
luck, unless it's cut from the tree before Christmas Eve when it brings back luck
to the bearer.
Another trait it shares with Mistletoe is having separate
male and female plants, with the female having bright red berries nestling among
glossy, deep green leaves.
Most commonly used as a boundary tree in bushes
and hedges, Holly has two distinct leaf forms - spiny near the ground to protect
itself from being eaten by animals, and spineless anywhere further up.
are covered in a strong, waxy cuticle to prevent water loss during times of drought.
As such, Holly is evergreen and lasts throughout winter
The well-known partner
of Holly, Ivy is a creeping plant, with an amazing array of adhesive suckers allowing
it to wrap around trees and walls as sort of a scaffold for support during growth.
plant provides a great source of food and shelter for small birds, bees and butterflies,
who feed on its pollen, nectar and berries and nestle in among its numerous leaves.
Fungi and insects
not uncommon to see mushrooms growing in an orchard, on the ground among the rotting
fruit or even on the trees themselves.
A common misconception that that
fungi feed on dead wood, but the truth is that when you see mushrooms growing
on trees, they are only feeding on the dead tissue of the outer layers - the tree
is usually alive and well inside.
One fungi - the honey fungus - which
grows on trees is actually edible.
Orchards are also a wonderful breeding
ground for insects, with plenty of rotting wood and fruit on the woodland floor
for them to feed on and hide under.
Peer into any Woodpecker's hole to
find Wood Lice, hibernating Snails, Mites, Weevils, Beetles and hibernating Wasps.
Two species of bugs worth looking out for are the noble Chafer Beetle,
which can be found scuttling over leaves, and the Mistletoe Tortrix Moth.
latter lays its eggs on apple blossoms, which develop into caterpillars which
crawl inside the ripened fruit.