As you might expect, what we found was that orchards mean a lot to people, and they don’t just view them through rose-tinted glasses. They see them as active parts of their everyday lives – shaping who they are and the way they live. They enjoy them for the peace that they bring, for the views and beauty they provide, and for the routes to the wild that they open. They enjoy them for exercise, for education, and for just being there. When we looked at what these things meant to people in financial terms, we found that social values were significant, and were frequently greater than the total economic value – only part of which (profitability) is usually considered in standard business decision making.
There is, of course, a big difference between proving a theoretical value, and achieving a real one. And in a world of exclusive private ownership it is easy to understand why decisions are only made on the parts of value that the owner of the resource sees – typically the economic values that flow from it. These wider environmental and social benefits are all very well, goes the theory, but they are free benefits granted by the owner to others, and unless those others are willing to actually pay for them somehow, then they don’t really exist at all. Not in monetary terms at least. Orchards continue to be grubbed up – indeed one of the six orchards studied for the report no longer stands.
What the Natural England commissioned report did not do, therefore, was put a definitive value on an orchard. Instead, it offered insights into the wider importance of an orchard to the world and its people around it, and ideas about how that importance might be considered in traditional economic thinking. Pete Brown has described the report as “a brilliant piece of work. We live in a bone-headed, short-sighted culture…” where monetary values are all that matter.”