Wildlife: Crab apples galore is good news for the local blackbirds now forming small flocks

Crab apples are quite uncommon trees of ancient woods and old hedgerows and their occurrence and distribution in such places was of particular interest the guru of ancient woodlands, the late Professor Oliver Rackham.

Thursday, 28th October 2021, 6:00 am
Crab apples

Indeed, they tend not to regenerate easily in closed woods but do best if there is access, at least occasionally, by large grazing animals.

This was so in the wood where I took this photograph; essentially an open woodland glade by a well-wooded riverside in North Yorkshire. There were at least two mature crab apples and one, of a good size had produced this superabundance of windfall fruit. It may be that the seeds need to pass through the herbivore gut in order to germinate and furthermore to disperse to suitable regeneration sites via animal dunging. Whatever the mechanism, crab seems to struggle to regenerate inside a closed-canopy wood but does so around the edge or in pasture immediately adjacent.

The crab apples here were doing well with one smallish tree and the other large (at least for this generally small species); and they certainly produced masses of good apples. We leave them alone because they are highly acidic and tart to the taste. Wild animals and domestic stock however, do like them and this may be the answer to the apple’s way of dispersing and regenerating. Of course, crab apples galore is good news for the local blackbirds now forming small flocks as they roam the countryside; soon to be joined by mass immigration from continental and northern Europe. Incoming fieldfares, redwings, and European blackbirds will be drawn to abundances of apples such as the ones shown in the picture. The same thing happens of course in old orchards if the fruit has not been gathered in, or if windfalls are abundant and left lying on the ground. In times past, such windfalls were consumed by either wild boar or else by local pigs driven to the woods by the local swineherds.

Wild boar are now spreading to many parts of the country, so maybe this will be the case once more.

Professor Ian D. Rotherham, researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues, is contactable on [email protected]