Orchards are a beloved feature of the British countryside, for their gnarled, twisted branches and the bountiful yields in autumn that spoil us with cider and fruit-filled pies. We don’t normally associate them with the vast numbers of wildlife they support, but on Brockhampton Estate the damson, apple, quince and cherry orchards are bursting with all manner of insects, thriving on the leaves, fruit and characteristic layers of decaying wood.
In these enchanting grounds, you can meander along woodland trails, see sheep grazing around the fruit trees, moorhens scattering across the grass, and perhaps you’ll want to help yourself to a juicy damson or two.
This glossy, green beetle is nationally scarce but has a stronghold in the orchards of Herefordshire, its larvae feeding on the decaying wood of apple and damson trees. They’re difficult to spot, but you may find their brown, lozenge-shaped droppings among the wood mould in tree hollows.
Look up into the branches of the damson trees and you’ll instantly recognise the green leaves and berries that nurture many birds and insects. In 2000, the mistletoe weevil (Ixapion variegatum) was first spotted in Britain in the orchards of Brockhampton and avid naturalists are keeping their eyes peeled for a glimpse of the evasive beetle in the bunches.
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It’s hard to ignore the little mounds dotted around the outskirts of the orchard, created by the yellow meadow ant (Lasius flavus). This common British insect feeds on honeydew from aphids, which are herded by the ants in the ants’ nests. Ant hills are said to be an indicator of old pasture, meaning the land hasn’t been cut or ploughed for many years.
Lesser spotted woodpecker
Another scarce creature that’s a lover of decaying wood in orchards, this sparrow-sized woodpecker is recognisable for its ‘pyee-pee-pee’ call and black and white plumage. Stop and listen on one of the trails through the orchards and you might hear one digging into the rotten bark for grubs.
Around 12cm (5in) in length and often golden in colour, this nocturnal mammal feels right at home on the estate, roosting in the holes of trees and under cracks in the bark, feeding on moths and beetles. The estate often holds bat-watching walks, where you may also spot pipistrelle and horseshoe bats.
This native wildflower lights up the meadows adjoining the orchards, attracting a range of butterflies, such as the common blue and six-spot burnet. Nicknamed ‘eggs-and-bacon’ for its red and yellow flowers when they begin to open, this pretty perennial can be seen in bloom from April until the end of September. Traditionally, it has been used in a compress to soothe inflamed skin, but it should not be eaten as it is highly toxic.
HOW TO GET THERE
The estate is two miles east of Bromyard on the A44. From Worcester Foregate Street station, catch the First 420 bus that stops near the estate entrance.
FIND OUT MORE
The estate is open all year, dawn to dusk. The house and tearooms are open 6 Mar-19 Dec, 11am-5pm (4pm in winter), Wed-Sun or daily 5-18 April and 1 Jul-31 Aug.
Warren Farm B&B, tearooms and pantry, Brockhampton Park, Bringsty WR6 5TB
A traditional working farm situated within the estate grounds, this B&B is the perfect base for walks, exploring the Bromyard Downs and taking in the glorious views. In September you can even pick your own sweetcorn.
The tearoom serves delicious cakes and scones made in the Warren Farm kitchen, while the pantry stocks a wonderful array of jams, jellies and marmalades.
The Royal Oak
Bromyard Downs, Norton
In the heart of the Bromyard Downs, this Tudor pub serves organic steak from nearby Malvern and a selection of local ales.