The old orchard at Bough Beech provides a variety of habitats and examples of traditional varieties of Kentish apples. At the south end there are fully mature trees from Winkhurst farm while the north end was planted 30 or more years ago by the first Warden of the nature reserve.
This orchard is a rich habitat for wildlife because it is not managed for maximum fruit production. The trees are only lightly pruned which allows light to reach the ground between the trees and no sprays are ever used. There is cover for birds to nest, the fruit feeds flocks of migrant Fieldfares and Redwing in the winter as well as resident small mammals. Reptiles live in the long grass and compost heaps.
Photo 1 Birds nest in an apple tree
Photo 2 Dense foliage gives good cover for birds
This month our task was to clear some of the exuberant growth which has taken place over the last two years. There is a black thorn hedge which sends up suckers 5-6m into the orchard and would soon overwhelm the trees leaving only blackthorn. These suckers were cut back and burnt as was a large bramble patch. Without this control there would soon cease to be an orchard. One tree has died and id it has been cut back to provide standing dead wood, an essential habitat for beetles.
Photo 3 The overgrown hedge before
Photo 4 The end of a rewarding day. The tree is dead but has been left as another habitat niche for beetles.
Cutting the blackthorn here helps to create one type of habitat while leaving a deep blackthorn hedge and scrub elsewhere on the reserve provides habitat for Brown Hairstreak butterfly. See our blog post about the Brown Hairstreak for more information. In a small reserve conservation is all about choices and there is a clear long term plan for each area of the reserve.
Before Covid October was the time for the Bough Beech Apple Day. Unfortunately, this could not happen this year but perhaps one day in the future it will return. They you will be able to sample the delights of Costard, Cats Head, Michaelmas Red, Golden Pippin and the host of other very special apples growing at Bough Beech.