How we’re bringing blossom back
Orchards are disappearing. Our research shows that more than half of the orchards in England and Wales have been lost since 1900. This means fewer homes for wildlife and far less people taking in the beauty of spring blossom. But we believe it’s not too late to bring blossom back, which is why we’re planting millions of blossom trees and new traditional orchards.
More than half (56 per cent) of orchards have been lost with only 43,017ha (hectares) left growing in England and Wales today, according to research we’ve commissioned. That's around the size of the Caribbean island of Barbados. Traditional orchards have also decreased by 81 per cent (78,874ha) – equivalent to an area the size of the West Midlands.
The research, which is the first comprehensive review of both traditional and modern orchards in England and Wales, uses data from the National Library of Scotland’s historic map collection, the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and Natural England, and has been analysed using artificial intelligence mapping technologies from ArchAI, a specialist technology partner that uses AI to map archaeological sites.
Areas with the greatest losses in orchards
Regionally, the south west, which was home to the largest area of orchards at the beginning of the 20th century, has experienced the loss of nearly 24,000ha (around 74 per cent) of its orchards, the single biggest loss in terms of hectares of any region.
In terms of counties, Devon and Worcestershire have seen the biggest losses of hectares, losing 7,082ha and 8,240ha respectively. The greatest losses in orchard area have been seen in cities, including Greater London (94 per cent), Merseyside (92 per cent) and Bristol (90 per cent).
The loss of orchards in England and Wales since 1900 is largely because land use has changed to account for more developments in urban and suburban areas, the creation of deciduous woodland and for improved grassland.
This has been shown through data scientists’ detailed analysis and comparison with the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology’s Land Cover 2020 mapping.
" The loss of orchards impacts on the stories we can tell, the culture and history we can experience in the landscape"
Impacts on humans and wildlife
The loss in orchards has had an impact on us all. Tom Dommett, Head of Historic Environment at the National Trust, says: ‘For hundreds of years orchards were a defining feature in many places, part of the fabric of everyday life. Their loss impacts on the stories we can tell, the culture and history we can experience in the landscape, and it means fewer opportunities for people to enjoy the beauty and spectacle of blossom today.’
A lack of orchards has a detrimental impact on wildlife too. The trunks and branches of traditional varieties of fruit trees are great homes for rare species such as the noble chafer beetle and attract patrolling bats. Not only this, but the blossom attracts pollinators, which are vital to our ecosystem.
Environment Minister, Rebecca Pow says: 'Early spring blossoms are a real treat – both the glorious burst of colour and the scent. This welcome spectacle is not only a moment of natural beauty though it also provides an essential lifeline for our pollinators.
'I aim to have as much early blossom in my own garden as possible to help provide our insect friends with valuable nectar sources.
'I encourage everyone to take part in this year’s blossom watch campaign and find out more about the role traditional orchards and flowering street trees play in boosting biodiversity.'
Bringing blossom back
As part of our commitment to plant and establish 20 million trees across England, Wales and Northern Ireland by 2030, we want to plant four million blossoming trees. Planting native and historic varieties, and other trees such as blackthorn and hawthorn, are vital to supporting nature.
We'll be planting new traditional orchards at places such as Stourhead in Wiltshire, Arlington Court in Devon, Brockhampton in Herefordshire, Attingham Park in Shropshire, Westhumble in Surrey. We're also planting new fruit trees at Cotehele in Cornwall which is already home to traditional orchards.
John Deakin, Head of Trees and Woodland at the National Trust says: 'Traditional orchards and the blossom they bring creates valuable early nectar sources for insects which are often foraging for scarce resources in the early spring.'
Over the next five years, we’ll be continuing our ambition to bring back blossom to areas that really need it, for urban communities to come together and experience the natural world. Cities such as Newcastle, London, Plymouth and Birmingham will see blossom being planted for everyone to visit, enjoy and reflect.