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Inspired by an exchange visit to Switzerland, Austrian Apple Hen farmers have started to build branch piles that can work as protected habitats for e.g. hedgehogs, weasels, wild bees and thereby increase biodiversity.

Habitat for hedgehogs, weasels, wild bees or other species. Photo: Reinhard Gessl

In February 2024, the Austrian Apple Hen farmers visited Swiss high-stem (standard apple orchards) farms. In our opinion sharing experiences is particularly important in order to counteract so called “operational blindness” and to obtain new inputs for improving the farm. For the Apple Hen farmers, promoting biodiversity and preserving species is not just a catchphrase, but a matter close to their hearts. The fact that these values are also very important to Swiss high-stem farmers was both encouraging and inspiring for the Austrian farmers.

The network journey of the Austrian Apple Hen farmers is beginning to bear fruit: As a visit at one of the Apple Hen farms shows, ideas for promoting beneficial organisms from the Swiss high-stem farmer Hans Oppikhofer have already been implemented in Styria.

The idea to build branch piles to provide a protected habitat for hedgehogs, weasel, wild bees and many other animals has been met with great enthusiasm by the Austrian Apple Hen farmers. And thanks to the pruning of the Apple trees there are plenty of branches, just waiting to be piled up. The welcome side effect: These animals help to reduce the mouse population in Apple Hen orchards. The Apple Hen farmers are still planning to implement other ideas from the Swiss farmers, such as a watering place for insects.

Apple Hen farmers are looking forward to a visit from Swiss standard (high-stem) apple growers to show them the biodiversity and variety of species that can be found in a trellis orchard. In addition, the preservation and promotion of soil fertility is of great importance for Apple Hen farmers. They would like to pass on their experience.