Programme launched to halt decline in England's orchards

by Published Wed 29 Apr 2009 12:33
Action needed to restore lost habitats
Action needed to restore lost habitats

A new initiative has been launched to save England's orchards, over half of which have disappeared during the last 50 years.

A £268,000 grant from Natural England will pay for a dedicated National Trust orchard officer as part of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan's efforts to safeguard endangered British habitats.

Kate Merry, the first orchard officer, said: "We now have a real opportunity to reverse the decline of traditional orchards and recognise the important role they play in our cultural and natural heritage. If we don’t act, there is a real danger that they will not survive the 21st century."

Since the 1950s, more than 60 per cent of England's orchards have been lost, mostly to development.

Dr David Bullock, head of nature conservation at the National Trust, said: "Traditional orchards have been disappearing at an alarming rate over the last 60 years.

"We are in real danger of losing these unique habitats – and the wildlife, local fruit varieties and their rich heritage – and if we don’t act in some cases we will not even know what local varieties of fruit have been lost."

The UK was one of a number of countries to pledge to restore national biodiversity at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Orchards were classed as an endangered habitat in 2007.

Poul Christensen, acting chair of Natural England, said: "Traditional orchards are a classic feature of the English landscape and are ideal habitats for threatened and protected species.

"This project is one of many across the country using grants from our Countdown 2010 fund, to help halt biodiversity loss."

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