Stacks Image 79

Wildlife in the Orchard 2021

  • March 2021
    Orchard wildlife report
    As the days are lengthening, and the temperature slowly but surely rising, the wildlife in the community orchard is beginning to wake from its winter slumbers with clear evidence that spring is well and truly here!
    We are delighted to be able to report that a large mass of frog spawn has recently been spotted in the wildlife pond. In a few weeks time, this will have turned into a seething mass of tiny tadpoles, which in turn will develop into small frogs which will be venturing forth in late summer.
    The wildlife area is maturing very nicely. There is a clump of perfect daffodils at one end, which is enough to brighten up anybody’s day, and a large patch of wild primroses in the bog garden area. The yellow Celandines are flowering profusely, and are now at their peak. These are some of the earliest wild flowers to be seen, and in favourable conditions can be seen as early as late December, and even then can be attracting honey bees, eager to get at their valuable nectar.

    There is an old hedge at the southern boundary of the orchard, which unfortunately had contained several non-native shrubs and trees. We recently severely trimmed back the fast growing non-native sycamore, and removed several cotoneasters, which are not particularly wildlife friendly. In their place, we have planted 30 saplings of native hawthorn, hazel and rowan. These will be nurtured over the coming season, and in a few years' time the berries of the rowan and hawthorn will provide vital sustenance to birds, and could even attract winter migrants such as redwings and fieldfares.
    Our three beehives are all showing much activity, and the attraction of the nectar from the many orchard wild flowers, will ensure they are available to fertilise the blossom on our fruit trees in April and May.
    We eagerly await the distinctive call of the chiffchaff warbler, which should soon be heard singing from the ash tree near the pond, and which in the past has been spotted ferreting about for insects during the winter months. We believe that there are a few of these normally migrant birds that are choosing to overwinter around the community orchard.
  • July 2021
    Orchard wildlife report
    We are now in high summer, and after a very wet and cool May and June, the recent hot weather has at last allowed nature to do some catching up! The prolonged cool weather earlier in the season was not good for our insect populations, and butterfly numbers have been much reduced. Also, the various species of butterfly have been emerging up to two weeks later than usual. However, numbers are now increasing. 

    We have a reasonable number of Meadow Browns flying around our orchard hedgerows and meadow area, and more recently the Ringlet, an attractive dark brown butterfly has been seen too. This butterfly is unusual in that it is one of the few that is often seen flying in dull and damp weather, and sometimes even when it’s raining! I am now spotting my first Small Skippers of the season, which are orange/brown in colour, and are often seen gathering nectar from the Knapweed plants that are scattered through the meadow area. We are still seeing Common Blues, which rely on the Bird’s-foot Trefoil to give food for their larvae, and these plants can be seen dotted about the meadow. 

    We are cutting the meadow on a rotational basis. We started scything in early July, with a view to completing the whole area by mid to late August. This way, the flowers of the Yellow Rattle which are now just going over will have had time to set their seed, and that characteristic ‘rattle’ will be a sign the seeds are ready to fall to ground to provide plants for next year, a process enhanced by the act of scything. We are saving the most wildflower rich areas until last, and it is here that I’m already seeing the Common Field Grasshoppers, with their ’song’, a series of short chirps.

    Although our songbirds are beginning to go quiet as they approach the moulting season, the swifts are making their presence felt by their distinctive shrieking calls, and on my recent visit to the orchard in brilliant sunshine, they were flying low over the apple trees catching insects in flight, and making a great spectacle. 

    The pollinator bed (next to the beehive enclosure) is full of wild flowers, which include Lady’s Bedstraw, St.John’s-wort, and Ox-eye Daisies. These in turn are supporting many insects with their nectar, and are being frequented by our resident bees and the butterflies.

    We have spotted quite a few slow worms this year, often nestling in our compost heaps, and have already seen some fully grown frogs, some of which lurk in the meadow area hunting for their prey of slugs.

  • November 2021
    Orchard wildlife report

    November 2021
    As the bountiful late summer and autumn harvest slowly comes to an end, we now look forward to a period of relative dormancy in the orchard and for its associated wildlife.

    Whilst many of our migrant songbirds have flown south, those that are resident still have to find food. We can see mixed flocks of tits - great, blue and long tailed - foraging for insects in the trees and bushes. Goldfinches love the teasel seeds in the wildflower area. Robins are very inquisitive, and will often be found close to any gardening work, looking for tasty morsels.

    Newts leave the pond to search out a leafy spot to survive the winter cold.

    Autumn is the time for fungi, and their fruiting bodies can occasionally be seen in the orchard. Sometimes in the grass around the fruit trees you can see the occasional field mushrooms, and in the wildlife area underneath the ash tree small fungi can sometimes be found. These include Russulas, which is a very large family of fungi, often found underneath trees. Although these are not edible, they can be quite attractive and striking. Recently seen was a toadstool which is thought to be the “Fragile Russula”. This non edible fungus can be found growing underneath broad-leaved trees or conifers, during late summer and into autumn.

    In the wildlife area near the pond you can see a small spindle tree. This makes up for its earlier insignificant looks by producing eye catching bright orange berries in a vivid pink casing in late autumn. 

    One of the last fruits to form is the often maligned ivy, whose flowers have only just gone over in early November. Initially their berries are green, but they ripen to black late in the winter, and as they are one of the last available berries, in a time of scarcity they provide vital sustenance for birds, especially wood pigeons, blackbirds and song thrushes.

    Other berries that can be seen are the rowan and guelder rose. Scarlet rosehips and hawthorn berries, duller but no less tasty for a variety of birds, take the season onwards by ripening over a longer period of time. Sloes and bullaces are very hardy and keep going past the first frosts which soften and sweeten these often sour fruits, and holly and mistletoe help many birds through tough winter months. So our birds and small mammals are given a running buffet to see them through the lean winter months.
    Paul Arthur
If you see any interesting wildlife in the Orchard, please let us know - you can use the Contact form to get in touch.

chiffchaff copy