The legacy of Kitty's Orchard

PUBLISHED: 10:52 03 January 2012 | UPDATED: 20:51 20 February 2013

The legacy of Kitty's Orchard

The legacy of Kitty's Orchard

Alison McGachy, Gwent Wildlife Trust fundraising manager, on the gift that keeps on growing

In the late 1990s, Margaret Howorth, a long-standing supporter of the trust, gifted us a small area of plantation and grassland near Llandenny Walks, known as Kittys Orchard. The semi-improved grassland consisted of single-age trees of both native and non-native species. Along with the land, the new nature reserve came with an endowment from Margaret to help us manage the site for the future.

While legacies are extremely important to the funding of our core work, supporters are not around to see the difference that their generosity has made to the wildlife of Gwent. Endowments however, are a wonderful way for the giver to actually enjoy seeing how their kind-heartedness has helped us manage sites for wildlife.

What has the endowment achieved at Kittys Orchard?

Across Britain, an astonishing 97%
of our flower-rich hay meadows have been lost. Any work towards reversing this trend is therefore of great importance on a local and national level.

When the trust took over the management of Kittys Orchard we introduced traditional hay meadow management with a late cut in July, followed by aftermath grazing with cattle or sheep. Grazing is managed so that the stock is removed in spring and the grassland is allowed to grow and set seed before the annual hay cut.

We also harvested green hay from one of our best hay meadow sites and spread it onto the grassland. This helps new species seed into the grassland.

Traditional orchards are important for a wide range of species and can be biodiversity hotspots which are home to a range of special species. Monmouthshire was once the main fruit-growing county in Wales but many of these lovely old orchards and their associated wildlife have now gone from our countryside.

At Kittys Orchard a small area of the reserve, where all that remains of a relict orchard is an old dead pear tree, was planted with a selection of traditional variety fruit trees. Even small orchards with three or four trees can help our local wildlife. Populations of bullfinch, for example, have decreased at an alarming rate over the past 15 years it is now a UK Priority Species. Bullfinches feed on a variety of berries, seeds and buds of bushes and trees and are particularly attracted to orchards to feed both on the buds in spring and the fruit later on in the summer.

Native broadleaved woodlands are one of the UKs most diverse habitats. In a woodland managed for wildlife there will be a range of native tree species of all ages, open sunny glades and rides and plenty of dead wood for specialist invertebrates.

At Kittys Orchard we have been gradually diversifying the single-age stands of trees through cutting out non native species over several years. We have also created a wide open ride through the plantation to attract butterflies, such as the speckled wood, and left piles of dead wood for invertebrates.

How the site looks now
The grassland is now a flowery meadow where a range of colourful species such as hay rattle, red clover and birds foot trefoil thrive. There are scattered common spotted orchids dotted across the meadow. The orchard is still young but as it matures, it will become more valuable to wildlife. The winter twigs, spring flowering, summer growth and autumn decay allow the cycle of life for insects and fungi, and the interaction of birds and animals. The woodland area has become more diverse and in spring a few scattered bluebells have started to appear. Last year, for the first time, a spectacular broad leaved helleborine (a type of woodland orchid) appeared at the edge of the woodland area.

The endowment for Kittys Orchard has been invaluable in helping us manage this reserve for people and wildlife. If you value your local nature reserve, an endowment can be a wonderful way of helping your local wildlife. If interested in setting up an endowment for your favourite reserves, please contact Alison McGachy, fundraising manager, on 01600 740600 for more information

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