Lambs in the spring orchard on the Black Down estate

The first lambs of spring on the Black Down estate, in the South Downs, are always a special moment. Our rare breed Jacob sheep graze the orchards and meadows at Swan Barn Farm, to help keep the habitats in top condition for wildlife. We are very close to where Robert Hunter lived, one of the founders of the National Trust, just behind Haslemere High Street, and the gateway to some of Surrey and Sussex’s finest countryside.

Jacobs are a hardy breed and are very self sufficient. Our sheep are out enjoying the fresh flush of grass in the orchards. This year’s first lambs are born and soon they will be gambling about and causing mischief in the orchard in the spring sunshine.

Creating habitats for wildlife

Old orchard trees are a fantastic wildlife resource, alive with the buzz of our local bees making the most of the nectar and pollen. The grazing really improves the habitat for wildlife here and we have seen the reapperance of wildflowers such as orchids and a proliferation of butterflies such as Brimstones and Meadow Browns.

Restoring the orchard

About ten years ago this orchard only had five or six trees left, and so we set about restoring it. Since then we have planted 30 or so apple, pear, plum, cherry, damson and gage trees and extended the orchard twice. We have gone for a mix of traditional and modern varieties as well as trying to get varieties that will be ready at different times so we have a long fruiting season.

The trees are really coming into their own now and we have a decent crop of apples. We are also training some of the branches downwards to make the fruit easier to pick. Over time these branches will adapt to the shape we are training them into and the string will be removed.

They all have good solid tree cages to protect them from browsing damage, and have biodegradable mulch matts to ensure that the water in the soil goes to the tree rather than to the grass growing around its base. We also put guards on them to prevent rabbits from nibbling the bark.

We planted them on traditional rootstocks which will allow them to gow up to 20-25 feet high, much taller than a modern orchard, but it will mean they will provide a really useful space for the local wildlife.

Picnics and walking

You can enjoy a picnic in the orchards and catch a glimpse of the lambs, blossom and views down into pastures cloaked by a wooded valley. For keen walkers there are three major walks nearby. The first is the 64-mile-long Serpent Trail, which starts here. It was designed to showcase some of the finest views and breathtaking countryside in the south east. The footpaths also link to the nearby Sussex Border Path and Greensand Way.

At Swan Barn Farm, we have long-term volunteers living in a specially designed eco-house built with locally sourced, sustainable wood from the Black Down Estate. We also have the Hunter Basecamp, where people on our working holidays stay while helping us with our work.

Join in a community event

Our Orchard House was built as a permanent base for our apple pressing machinery and community events such as the Apple Pressing Day, Countryside Crafts Day, Cadbury Egg Hunt and the annual Winter Wassail.