Grazed Orchards in England and Wales

Description of system

Burrough et al (2010) report that there are 25,350 ha of 'traditional orchards' in England and Wales, however Defra (2013) suggest that the total commercial orchard area in England and Wales in 2012 was 17,600 hectares. The main commercial crop is apple (14,500 ha) followed by pears and plums. Defra (2013) report that there are about 7000 hectares of commercial cider orchards; approximately a quarter are 'traditional orchards' and three-quarters are 'bush orchards'. Traditional orchards typically have open-grown trees (tree density of less than 150 trees per hectare), whilst bush orchards can have 600 trees per hectare. Both types of orchard have grass understoreys which need to be kept short to enable apple harvest. Grazing is practised in some traditional orchards, but the use of animals in mature bush orchards is less common.

If you would like to know about the activity of this group, please contact Dr. Matt Upson at Cranfield University.

Initial stakeholder meeting

The 'Grazed Orchards in England and Wales' group had its first meeting in Ledbury, Herefordshire on 9 June 2014 in conjunction with a Soil Association Field Lab.

The meeting was attended by 14 stakeholders, of whom 11 are actively involved in the management of orchards.

A key innovation arising from this meeting was the use of Shropshire sheep for grazing orchards, as it is considered that this breed (which is valued for meat production) are 'tree friendly', and can reduce mowing costs.

Download the initial stakeholder report

Download the initial research and development protocol

Download the system description

A system description describing a grazed orchard trial and some initial modelling was produced in April 2016.

Lessons learnt

The stakeholder group in this study had a specific interest in the use of Shropshire sheep, a British lowland sheep breed, for the grazing of orchards. The financial costs and benefits of introducing sheep to a cider apple orchard with half-standard trees (i.e. trees pruned to a height of 1-2 m) was investigated from the perspective of i) a single business including apple and sheep production and ii) two separate businesses of an orchard owner and a sheep breeder. The use of agrochemicals in the studied cider orchard was minimal. The introduction of sheep can reduce orchard mowing costs and provide an additional source of income, but introducing sheep may result in extra fencing and handling costs. Because the sheep must be removed from the orchard for the two months before cider apple harvest, the sheep breeder needs access to additional grazing land. One of the advantages of orchard grazing is that the sheep producer can use this additional grazing land to produce a hay or silage crop when then sheep are in the orchard.

Assuming that there is minimal negative effect on apple yields, orchard grazing can be financially beneficial for a single business. It can also be financially beneficial for an orchard owner and sheep breeder to work together, although transactions costs need to be minimised.

Download the report