Keeping traditional orchards blossoming

A girl sitting beneath a tree filled with blossom in the orchard at Cotehele, Cornwall

Traditional orchards are a part of our heritage but also a vital part of our future. As well as providing us with beautiful spaces to relax and delicious food and drink to enjoy they are home to many birds, bees, butterflies and insects.

A core issue

Sadly though, due to changes in agricultural practices and pressures from development, orchard numbers have fallen by 63% since the 1950s. We have ambitious plans to reverse this decline and to restore this rare and valuable habitat and the wildlife that live in it.

As part of our work to encourage wildlife by increasing priority habitats, we’re planting 68 new orchards on sites in England and Wales by 2025.

A bee gets a feast while pollinating the apple tree
A bee feasting on nectar from apple blossom
A bee gets a feast while pollinating the apple tree

Why are traditional orchards so important?

Traditional orchards are far better for wildlife than commercial ones. Without the pressure of needing to produce large quantities of fruit for sale the trees are planted further apart and wildflowers often grow underneath them to encourage pollinators to pollinate blossom when the trees flower in spring.  

" Every tree is precious because it can become a home for birds such as the lesser spotted woodpecker, bats and mistletoe moth. The amazing number of apple and other traditional fruit varieties that we can plant reflects the wonderful diversity of life."
- Dr David Bullock, Head of Species and Habitat Conservation

Cotehele orchard is blossoming

The orchards at Cotehele are just a few of the 200 orchards across the country looked after by the National Trust.

Being in sunny Cornwall, Cotehele is usually one of the first places in the country where you can see apple blossom on the trees. The recent warm weather has brought forward the flowering season in the orchards here and you'll find they're full of colour and beauty right now.

Enjoying the early apple blossom in Cotehele's Old Orchard
A girl sitting amongst the apple blossom in the Old Orchard at Cotehele
Enjoying the early apple blossom in Cotehele's Old Orchard

The Old Orchard

The old orchard contains a variety of productive trees including apples, Tamar cherries, pears and walnuts. As the trees fill with blossom and the airs hums with the sound of pollinators collecting nectar and the ground underneath fills with a sea of bluebells.

The Mother Orchard

Cotehele's Mother Orchard was planted eleven years ago with over 300 trees  and 125 different  heritage varieties of apple tree including the Cornish Honeypinnick, Limberlimb, Pig’s’ Nose and Lemon Pippin.

The varieties grown here have been bred over the last 250 years to survive the mild and damp climatic conditions of the southwest peninsula. The intention is to provide a reference set of ‘mother trees’ that can be used for the selection of future varieties for both domestic and commercial use.

The Mother Orchard at Cotehele
The Mother Orchard with hand sculpture and apples in autumn at Cotehele, Cornwall
The Mother Orchard at Cotehele

A space for everyone to enjoy

The local community gathers each year for a traditional winter wassail to encourage fruitfulness in the orchards and many events are held in them every year, with hundreds of people gathering in celebration of the apple harvest and cider pressing.

The Cotehele team also run workshops to teach people skills such as pruning and grafting to encourage the planting and propagation of local apple varieties and new orchards.

" Orchards are the gauge of all the seasons – from bare branches springs new life in the spring, and with the help of pollinating insects, blossom becomes fruit over the summer, which we pick in the autumn and create food and drink, before the trees ‘power down’ for their winter ‘sleep’."
- David Bouch, Head gardener