Neglected Orchard

The two orchards on Fairfield Park form beautiful and interesting green areas for walking and relaxing and according to a respected tree experts the fruit trees in the Orchards include rare and even unique species.

Mr Michael Clarke who is Vice Chair of Hertfordshire Orchard Initiative, and Past Chair of Friends of Brogdale Trust, the National Fruit Collection, Kent made a report after two visits to the site following the application to build houses on the historic site.

In a detailed report to residents he wrote:

A second visit was made on 17 August 2009, to see the trees and try to help with identification and evaluation of the sites for the residents who are concerned about the future of the trees.

  1. The first visit was in May to see the orchards for the first time and assess the blossom. Three plantings can be discerned from the age of the trees: The oldest is behind the walled garden, which may be 80 years or more with some veteran, but still productive trees amongst weaker specimens, and there are gaps where trees have clearly been lost. A striking feature is the line of Kentish Cob (also known as ‘Lambert’s Filbert’) nuts which are very productive and do not appear to suffer squirrel damage here. They are a larger, commercial variety of hazel nuts and should be harvested in September when still a little green. The trees are also used as screening to protect fruit orchards because they create dense windbreaks that also provide a crop.  A specimen standard Bramley Seedling is the best tree in the line along by the road.  Identification of all the trees will probably produce some rare types, possibly even the Hitchin Pippin, and this may be the unusual red sport of the Bramley, which is of even greater interest. An ideal site for in-filling with new trees to add to the productive trees still present. Codlin, Ellison’s Orange, Monarch were all found in this area, with some old pear and plum trees
  2. The adjoining trees, following the ‘L’ shape round the walled garden appears to be a 1940s or 1950s planting with productive Laxton’s Superb and other more seldom seen Laxton types of dessert apples in good general order for their age. Blossom was striking here in the spring and a very attractive amenity feature in itself for the Hall inhabitants. The Laxton Nursery in Bedford was one of the three most famous fruit nurseries in the UK in the last and previous centuries: Rivers at Sawbridgeworth, Laxton’s of Bedford and Bunyard’s of Kent dominated the markets and their legacy can be found throughout the world. This is of special local importance due to the proximity of Bedford.
  3. The Bramley Seedling orchard to the rear of the cricket ground is both productive and a beautiful feature of the Hall’s attractive grounds. The trees are about 80 years old and in good general condition, although rabbits have ring-barked a number of trees and killed them. Protective fine wire surrounds are needed. (The original Bramley from 1809 is still growing in Nottinghamshire and the famous cooking apple’s 200th anniversary is being celebrated throughout this year). There are Ellison’s Orange and other Laxton trees here, but the most spectacular dessert apple in this orchard is a Lady Sudeley, which is heavily in fruit this August despite its age. Older trees tend to crop bi-annually.

Recommendations:

There is now a very professional juicing service established for the area based at Shenley and voluntary collection of the fruit from many orchards now results in commercial bottled juice that is labelled and sold for its local character. This brings in valuable income to sites such as nature reserves and heritage orchards that were once part of the gardens of old estates and their houses. There is clearly enough interest amongst residents to put this into effect at Fairfield, too.

It is also a rare opportunity to harvest crops of the cobnuts. In fact, all these crops are being organically grown and could in future be managed partly from income from their sales. Old trees need very little pruning apart from removal of dead wood, and insect life benefits from dead stumps left in place. Apple Days are run throughout the UK now and these events attract many visitors interested in our national heritage of fruit. They also give a sales opportunity to raise money for the work and expenses of volunteers who have harvested the valuable local food source.

New plantings of local varieties of fruit trees in all the sites would develop the orchards into increasingly productive and attractive features: cordons could screen areas and the walled garden is ideal for walled-trained fruit which can be the most productive due to the warmth and shelter of the brickwork.

The area is clearly rich in wildlife: during today’s visit a Sparrow-hawk flew past, numerous small birds were seen, including pied wagtails around the houses, a green woodpecker was calling and Badger droppings indicated that they were not only visiting the orchards, but enjoying the blackberries. (The bramble bushes are being well managed in the Bramley orchard to provide a source of fruit in the gaps between the trees as well as very good nesting sites for bird life). The badger is a protected wild mammal with an omnivorous diet of insects, earthworms and fruit, in the main. It is possible in the future that residents will come to enjoy watching the species at night in illuminated areas if the Badgers are able to continue to feed in this attractive rural setting.

Studies have shown that orchards are one of the most important habitats for diversity of species.

Michael Clark tewinorchard.co.uk

(Vice Chair of Hertfordshire Orchard Initiative, Past Chair of Friends of Brogdale Trust, the National Fruit Collection, Kent, author of Apples – A Field Guide and other titles, BA (Hons), PGCE, FZS, Queen’s Award for Art)

In 2010 the Orchards were put forward for recognition as County Wildlife Sites.  The Bedfordshire CWS panel (comprising a number of environmental groups and Local Authorities) meets approx. 3 times a year.  Natural habitats meeting particular criteria can be put forward for designation as a CWS.  If a site is of sufficient quality notification will be sent to the landowner, there is no requirement for the landowner to manage their site in a particular way and to some degree we are reliant on the goodwill of the landowner to ensure sites remain in good condition

CWS status is recognised in the Development Strategy and Central Bedfordshire Council’s duty to have regard for biodiversity under the NERC Act means that we, as an authority, should not allow activities to cause harm to such sites without adequately assessing the impact.

One will note from the citations that the fact that the orchards are in a neglected state actually allowed for lichen growth on deadwood and the pure nature of a veteran tree in a state of decay makes it more ecologically valuable.  Had the site been under strict management for the production of fruit some of these attributes might have been lost.  The fact that 2 lichen species previously unknown in Bedfordshire were identified, not to mention the collection of varieties present shows the importance of being aware of the site’s value as a whole and not just from an aesthetic perspective.rfield West Orchard CWS

Site name:                      Fairfield West Orchard CWS

Site Description:CWS Survey August and September 2010

The site is located in the west of Fairfield Park. It is bordered to the east by a walled garden of Fairfield Hall and to the west by a road and new housing development. The orchard comprises two parts in an ‘L’ shape. It is typical of a traditional orchard containing of a mixture of 161 mature traditional cultivated fruit and nut trees in close proximity with semi-natural grassland below. The orchard was originally planted for use by Fairfield Hall patients (previously a mental hospital) which was opened in 1860. Records are known to exist for the purchase of the apple trees.

In the north it is largely open in character with a good grassland sward below a mix of apple, pear, plum, damson, hazel and walnut trees. These vary in size from 10cm diameter at breast height (dbh) up to 70cm dbh so representing a veteran fruit tree.

To the south the orchard is more ordered with regular, uniform rows of apple trees. These vary in size from 10cm dbh up to 45cm dbh, representing interesting orchard trees, the larger trees are on the periphery of this planting, i.e. on the north and south sides.

Apple varieties so far identified include Bramley’s Seedling, Codlin, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Ellison’s Orange, Hambling’s Seedling  (a Beds variety), Lady Studeley, Laxton’s Epicure (a Beds variety), Laxton’s Fortune (a Beds variery), Laxton’s Superb (a Beds variety), Lord Suffield, Monarch, Newton Wonder, and Owen Thomas (a Beds variety), plus a line of Kentish Cob trees known as Lambert’s Filbert, and three plum varieties. Variety identification is to continue.

There is evidence of extensive lichen populations and some of the trees in the shade of the southern tree line have moss growing on them. 36 species of lichen have so far been identified growing on the fruit trees, and 34 species on the adjacent wall.

Some trees show evidence of structural characteristics of veteran trees (over 70cm dbh) and biological significance with a number having holes in trunks and branches and also deadwood in the crown. Some deadwood is also present on the ground, some of which had recently fallen due to stresses from drought conditions and weight of fruit on branches.

 

The grassland is continuous across the site but some trees are overgrown and as such have shaded out the sward leaving mosses and ivy below in places. Grasses noted across the site included, cock’s foot (Dactylis glomerata), red fescue (Festuca rubra), perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne), Yorkshire fog (Holcus lanatus), false oat grass (Arrhenatherum elatius) and creeping bent (Agrostis stolonifera).

Herbs recorded across the site include dandelion (Taraxacum officinale agg.), white clover (Trifolium repens), daisy (Bellis perennis), field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis), hogweed (Heracleum sphondyliurn), creeping thistle (Cirsium arvensis), germander speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys), Ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata), wood avens (Geum urbanum), black medick (Medicago lupulina) cut-leaved crane’s bill (Geranium dissectum), selfheal (prunella vulgaris), ragwort (Senecio jacobea), smooth hawksbeard (Crepis capillaries). Lady’s bedstraw (Galium verum) was widespread in the northern part of the orchard as were yellow meadow ant hills. Viola sp was noted in the northern part of the east ‘leg’. Consultants surveying the site for a planning proposal identified common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsia) in this area also.

A tall hedge / tree line bounds the site to the south and this contains blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), privet (Ligustrum vulgare), sycamore (acer pseudoplantanus), holly (ilex aquifolium), yew (Taxus baccata), dog rose (Rosa canina), elder (Sambucus nigra) and wych elm (Ulmus glabra). Bramble (Rubus fruticosus agg.) and laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) are encroaching into some trees in the north of the east ‘leg’ and a line of old hazel coppice adjacent to the walled garden is enveloping a number of apple and plum trees, there is also a young walnut to the north of this line which is currently in good health.

This site supports 29 grassland species and 20 woody species.

The site clearly exceeds the threshold for recognition as a Traditional Orchard County Wildlife Site, containing 161 fruit and nut trees including local varieties, an extensive lichen population and veteran or biologically significant trees.

Traditional Orchards are a UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) priority habitat.

The site is covered by a Tree Preservation Order (TPO 7/9/09).

There has been a great deal of support for the orchard amongst the local residents who value it as an area of open space, for the wildlife that’s found there and for the fruit it produces. There is an opportunity for the site to be appropriately managed as a community orchard.

CWS Recognition September 2010

The site was recognized as a Traditional Orchard County Wildlife Site on 30/09/2010.

Fairfield East Orchard CWS

CWS Survey September 2010

This site is typical of a neglected traditional Orchard with a number of healthy, dead and dying Apple trees in close proximity with mixed scrub and grassland beneath. Though originally planted and managed for use by Fairfield Hall residents (previously a hospital) neglect has led to the site taking on a wilder, more natural feel and is extensively colonized by lichens.

The orchard contains approximately 50 Apple (Malus domestica) trees thought to be at least 80 years old. The varieties have not yet been fully determined but Bramley’s Seedling, Ellisons Orange and Lady Sudeley are all present along with “other Laxton” varieties as yet unconfirmed. Most of the trees are quite large and show evidence of structural characteristics of being Biologically Significant including: hollows, holes, water pockets, rot, deadwood (in some cases entire trees have died), loose old bark, broken branches, splits in branches and insect exit holes.

The grassland is continuous across the site where there is not dense Bramble (Rubus fruticosus agg.) cover, in many places the grass is allowed to grow long and contains numerous herbs (not recorded to species level). Few other tree species are present although there are some Elder (Sambucus nigra ) and Sycamore.

All the trees (particularly the Apples) are densely covered in lichens and two species have recently been recorded here for the first time in the county – Piccolia ochrophora (Strangospora ochrophora) on Elder bark and Hypotrachyna afrorevoluta on Apple bark. The discovery of these species indicates a lichen population of some significance as well as it being extensive.

The site is located in the east of Fairfield Park in Stotfold. It is bordered to the west by abandoned tennis courts and a cricket pitch, the north by standard trees and car parking and to the south and east by recent housing developments.

CWS Recognition September 2010

The site was recognized as a Traditional Orchard County Wildlife Site on 30/09/2010.