What are the environmental impacts of the orchards?
A wide range of biodiversity has been recorded on a voluntary basis. The local enthusiasts came along with a passion and dedication that isn't very often seen by an accountant!...
Here we see Dr Jonathan Sleath (mosses), Stephanie Thomson (plants) and Dr Arthur Wild (insects), just three of a multitude of local experts who have participated in the project to help to look at the range of biodiversity in each orchard. The list is continuing to grow.Each orchard has a wealth of biodiversity: this logs the number of different species found at each site and allows a comparison across different locations and management regimes.
Man of Ross, Garnons and Romulus are bush orchards. Note: Romulus was included as it is right next to Half Hyde and therefore allowed direct comparison of biodiversity between a bush and traditional orchard.
There have been some really interesting species finds: A county-first microfungus (Pirottaea nigrostriata) on a dead stem; a lichen that is normally an ancient woodland indicator species ( Bacidia rubella); a rare myxomycetes or slime mould (Physarum limonium)
and the real "icing on the cake", the find of the Golden eye lichen (Teloschistes chrysophthalmus) on a dead apple tree branch by Cliff Smith and Joy Rickets. This lichen had been thought to be extinct in the UK so has generated international interest - even being reported in the Iran Daily News.
We have also been helped by Cardiff University who have looked at the differences in populations of worms and mesofauna (small creatures living in the soil), and the Central Science Laboratory looked at small mammal populations. In both cases, our orchards were able to contribute to their research programmes.
The extensive biodiversity that has been found is a clear demonstration of the importance of all types of orchards as habitats and of the amazing contribution of the recorders to the understanding of our environment. It is notoriously difficult to value biodiversity per se so given these problems, we have valued biodiversity based upon what the government is willing to pay to 'protect' a type of habitat through the agricultural stewardship scheme. This is not, strictly, a measure of biodiversity alone, and will incorporate a number of additional elements, possibly associated with agricultural production targets, recreation, and habitat protection. However, it serves as a proxy in the absence of other more explicit values. This is an area where the debate is, however, continuing, particularly in light of the rare finds.
The environmental bottom line also considered the impact on climate change and soil and water quality. Orchards have a role in determining water quality, water supply & flood risk which could be assessed by comparing to the most likely alternative land use scenario, which in Herefordshire tends to be potatoes and we could have used flood damage costs and water company cleaning estimations to put a value on the ecosystem services provided by the orchard's soil. However as this was beyond the scope of this study, we have used a proxy value with some relevance which is a payment that certain water companies are offering to farmers in their watershed catchment areas for converting their land to organic farming.
With many thanks to the dedication and time of Herefordshire's natural species recorders, and the help of Herefordshire Nature Trust and Herefordshire Biological Records Centre.