Caring for orchards in the Midlands

Apples hanging from trees in Croome's orchard

We look after many orchards across the Midlands. Not only do they supply us with delicious fruits, but they maintain historical significance and are important habitats for many flora, fauna and wildlife.

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Traditional orchards in the Midlands

The orchards that we look after are full of fruits, wildlife and historical significance. Every time you eat one of the apples, you help us to look after the trees for ever, for everyone.

Many unusual plants and animals can be found in the orchards we care for, such as mistletoe, fungi and the noble chafer beetle - a rare species which has its national stronghold in the orchards of Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire.

Fungi come in many fascinating forms and colours
Enjoy a fungi walk with the National Trust this autumn

Because orchards were often historically planted in the sunniest and most sheltered parts of a garden they can provide a safe haven for wildlife. Orchard tree blossom is especially important for bees as it provides an early nectar and pollen source at the time of year when queen bees are emerging from hibernation.

In traditional orchards the trees are widely spaced and the land around the trees is often managed as meadow grassland with lots of flowers to encourage bees, butterflies and other natural pollinators that help to fertilise the orchard trees.

Can you spot the queen bee?
The queen bee marked with a white spot

Historically most farmhouses and estates would have their own orchard, but now around 80% of these have been lost to more intensive farming or other development. Fortunately, traditional orchards can still be found at many National Trust places across the Midlands, helping to tell the story of how people have lived and farmed throughout history.

We’re working to carefully manage our orchards as well as restoring and re-creating orchards that have been lost. This involves research into how estates were managed in the past, how the gardens and orchards were laid out and investigating which varieties were developed and grown in particular areas.

The orchards we look after grow old and rare varieties of fruit, including pears and plums as well as damsons, mulberries, cobnuts, cherries, medlar, quince and of course, apples.

Freshly picked Hanbury apples
Freshly picked Hanbury apples

The walled kitchen garden at Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire contains 72 apple varieties and is recognised as a national collection.

At Brockhampton in Herefordshire there are more than 50 hectares of orchards on the estate, which include an abundance of damsons, the dye from which was once used to colour bowler hats. Today, the damson crop is still being put to good use, but now to make gin which is sold in the shop, and delicious pies and crumbles to try in the Old Apple Store tea-room. 

Damsons are typically used to make preserves in autumn
Close view of a tree laden with ripening damsons at Hill House Farm on the Brockhampton EstateClose view of a tree laden with ripening damsons at Hill House Farm on the Brockhampton Estate

The orchard at Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire contains arguably the most famous apple tree in the world, the tree that inspired Newton’s theory of gravity. It is believed to have blown down in a storm in 1820 but remained rooted and re-grew into the tree that you can see today, and it still bears fruit.  

The famous apple tree that inspired Sir Isaac Newton's thoughts on gravity
Woolsthorpe Manor, birthplace of Sir Isaac Newton, with the famous apple tree

Properties such as Hardwick in Derbyshire, Croome in Worcestershire and Lyveden in Northamptonshire have orchards where new planting is helping to secure the future of their important historic orchards.

We wouldn’t be able to protect and preserve the orchards in our care without your support. There are lots of ways you can help us protect these special places and the wildlife within them.

From visiting and enjoying a slice of apple pie in the tea-room, to offering a little of your time as a volunteer, you can help ensure our traditional orchards are here to be enjoyed for generations to come.

If you’d like to get involved with volunteering with us, you can find out more here.

There are lots of apple and harvest events taking place across the Midlands this autumn, check out the what's on calendar to find one near you.
 

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