Orchards are so rich in biodiversity, they eclipse most recognised conservation areas. Spend a year in one orchard, and celebrate this imperilled, overlooked abundance of life.
As rotting windfall apples and frost lie thick on the ground, and the oldest of fruit trees bend under the weight of mistletoe, the orchard begins a new year.
A chattering blanket of starlings descend on the bounty of last year's fruit, joining bramblings, blackbirds, angry-faced waxwings and intoxicated fieldfares who, drunk on fermented berries, fight one another over their rotting real estate. Even in winter, the orchard is a place of bounty, competition and continuous surprise, most of whose secrets lie hidden deep below the surface.
As the seasons turn, a wealth of animals and plants are revealed: Bumble and solitary bees apartment-hunting in April; spotted flycatchers migrating in May; redstarts, hedgehogs and owls nesting in June; an explosion of life in the summer and the harvest and homespun cider-making in the autumn. And all throughout the year, the orchard's human and animal inhabitants work together, creating one of the richest ecosystems left in Britain.
Their ancient tradition of collaboration between people and nature makes orchards a source of hope for the future. If we can bring new life to Britain's orchards – favouring organic methods and harvesting with a balanced ecosystem in mind – not only wildlife but people will have a far richer Britain to profit from in the centuries to come.
Benedict Macdonald is a conservation writer, field director in wildlife television and a keen naturalist; passionate about restoring Britain's wildlife. He is a long-time writer for Birdwatching magazine, as well as a contributor to the RSPB Nature’s Home and BBC Wildlife. He has been fortunate to work on TV series for the BBC and Netflix – most notably the grasslands and jungles programmes of Sir David Attenborough's conservation series Our Planet, broadcast worldwide on Netflix in April 2019.
Nicholas Gates is a naturalist, producer, vlogger and writer based in Bristol. He has a passion for conservation and rewilding, and for inspiring people to care for the natural world. He studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge and when he’s not taking photos, he can be found working in his urban wildlife reserve garden, or with his chickens.
– Daily Mail
"Vivid [and] full of unexpected revelations [...] Orchard has much to offer in its observations of wildlife"
– John Carey, Sunday Times
"A wonderful new book from Benedict Macdonald and Nicholas Gates, veterans of the BBC's Springwatch series [...] moves lyrically and vividly through one calendar year in an old Herefordshire orchard [...] Particularly moving"
– New Statesman
"From spores to sparrowhawks, there is never a dull moment. Lyrically written, Orchard is a love-letter to its jumbled "magical chaos" and a shining example of the things that can be achieved when humans come to work in balance and in harmony with nature"
– BBC Wildlife
"From slug-hunting toads and snuffling hedgehogs to percussion-playing spiders, woodpecker architects and zombie hoverflies, this wonderful book weaves together fascinating stories of the wildlife that lives in an old organic orchard [...] Excellent [...] I would recommend Orchard wholeheartedly"
– Kathy Bishop, The Seasonal Table, Countryfile magazine
"This book looks at an ancient English orchard throughout the course of a year, focusing on the wide range of wildlife that it supports [...] writing with a lyrical richness that beautifully evokes this unique setting [...] The result is a book that can be enjoyed on a lot of different levels from professional conservationists, to the most casual of everyday birdwatchers. Passionate and moving, this is highly recommended"
– Birdwatch magazine
"A rich and textured account of a year in this neglected habitat"
– Stephen Moss
"Enjoy this precious habitat and all its glories via this coffee-table worthy book that offers food for thought"
– RSPB magazine
"This beautiful exploration of natural history is an elegy for a disappearing way of life [...] captivating"
– The Garden magazine