Location: East Devon
Size: 15 Acres
Species: Apple, Pear, Plum
The aim of this agro-forestry project near Culmstock, East Devon was to establish an orchard from which the farm could take a crop of hay or silage in summer and harvest the fruit and graze livestock in the autumn. The tree spacings were more extensive than a standard orchard to allow room for the pasture and to make it easier to operate machinery.
As well as its agricultural value this kind of land use provides a range of ecosystem services. Traditional hay meadow is now a rare habitat in the UK so the project has great biodiversity value, providing space for traditional grasses, wildflowers and the insects that depend on them. Pollinators also benefit from fruit blossom in spring and the fruit provides a source of late-autumn nectar and food for farmland birds.
Other benefits include the carbon captured by the growing trees and the role they play in mitigating soil erosion, flooding and river pollution by holding water on the land. The soil will also improve from the layering of nutrient extraction. Trees have deeper roots than grasses so do not compete with them. In fact, they transfer nutrients to the upper soil layer which is then available for the pasture on the surface, establishing a virtuous cycle, which reduces the need for fertilizer.
Ed Nicholson consulted with the land owner to design a planting plan which tied in with the farm’s other revenue streams. He said: “The farm has holiday lets, so we came up with a mix of traditional apple and pear varieties that can be juiced or made into cider to sell to guests and the stone fruit will work nicely as a pick-your-own crop. The hay will feed the horses and Dexter cattle and the Gloucester Old Spot pigs can make use of the windfall fruit in the autumn.”