Hidden treasures of Lot 7

We don’t always need to travel far to find amazing wildlife – sometimes it’s here on our doorstep, waiting to be appreciated. The land recently bought by the community in the centre of the village harbours a remarkable variety of wildlife. Pictured here is the confluence of Gatcombe Brook and the Hems, on the borders of Lot 7. The orchard area is particularly rich, as it has been left untouched for several years. Recent surveys have revealed 60 varieties of lichens, 55 different wildflowers, 50 species of moths, 9 types of bat and an unknown quantity of bugs and birds. Many thanks to Jenny Galton-Fenzi, who sent in this touching account:

‘It’s six-thirty on a fine morning, and I’m sitting at the top of the orchard in Lot 7 taking in the view. And feeling massively, humbly grateful to those village activists and donors who seized the day, and secured these precious four acres of meadow and orchard for all to enjoy. Things could so easily have ended differently; but now this piece of very special land will belong to the village for ever.

Just how special it is I’m only just beginning to appreciate. I’ve recently been privileged to walk the orchard with two amazing people. One, Nicola Bacciu, is a lichenologist. The couple of hours I spent in her company were fascinating and enlightening. With the help of magnifier and scraper, she identified over 60 types of lichen in the orchard, including the delightfully-named Fanfare of Trumpets (pictured here). Before, I would have walked past these complex organisms without a second glance, only vaguely noticing that they were grey or orange blobs. I learned that orange on twig tips, although not on walls, is bad, as it indicates too much nitrogen in the air. We don’t have too many orange tips, so our air is pretty clean.

My second expedition was with Chris Knapman, the Chair of the Devon Ancient Tree Forum, another extremely knowledgeable and wise person. He was delighted with the orchard and its bramble patches, and suggested we leave it just as it is, only planting a few extra trees if we want to. As we stood and watched tree creepers and nuthatches running up and down the trees, he warned against removing dead wood or fallen trees, as these are full of bugs and are an important part of the ecosystem. Inside one hollow apple trunk, he identified an ‘air root ‘, that is, the tree was trying to grow a root down to the ground through the hollow space from a height of about five feet. Who else would have seen that? He said he did not think there was any need to cut the grass in the orchard, but we could have a late September cut if we wanted, but not too short as some creatures overwinter in the tussocks. If we do cut it we should remove the debris and put it in a pile for grass snakes, however he did not think that nutrient enrichment would build up fast, as the ground is on a slope. He suggested trying to introduce Yellow Rattle and Knapweed, to parasitize the grass.

We took part in the Devon Greater Horseshoe Bat survey recently, and found that 9 types of bat, including Greater Horseshoes, were flying around the orchard. 55 types of wildflowers were counted between May and July. Most recently, our fifth annual moth-trapping event (pictured here) with Richard Fox of Butterfly Conservation totalled 50 species – the results will be shared with the Devon Biodiversity Records Centre and also with the National Moth Recording Scheme.

We hope to arrange a bug survey of the meadow shortly. The People’s Trust for Endangered Species have been surveying old orchards to try to find the rare Noble Chafer beetle, which feeds on dead heartwood. Perhaps there are some on Lot 7!

So Lot 7 is about much more than cider-making, although this will be good too. And I do recommend early-morning (or other time) visits, just to sit and watch and listen. See you there!’