Restoring orchards for nature

Fallen apples in a misty orchard

As well as providing abundant harvests every year, orchards are an important habitat for nature and wildlife. Unfortunately many orchards have been lost over the years, but we are helping maintain and reinstate these forgotten priority habitats at many National Trust sites.

Lost habitats

Orchards are an important habitat. In conservation terms they are classed as a ‘priority habitat’ which means they are important for their ecological, wildlife and cultural value. However whilst orchard growing has been documented in the UK as far back as Roman Times, Devon alone has lost 90% of its orchards since the Second World War. This is mostly due to neglect or changes in land use. Once cider was an important part of the economy, and often used to pay workers, and orchards lost much of their value when this changed.

Benefit for wildlife

The National Trust have been working hard not only to conserve the orchards we have, but also reinstate lost orchards. It is important we maintain them for a number of reasons:

  • Their ecological value – all trees are great for capturing carbon, stabilising the soil, and retaining water. Many older apple trees are also fantastic hosts for rare species of lichen.
  • Their wildlife value – older fruit trees are home to a fantastic number of invertebrate life, this includes species such as the rare Nobel Chaffer Beetle. They can also provide roosting and nesting sites for bats and birds, as well as providing a much needed food source.
  • Fruit trees provide a plentiful source of delicious delights for people! Every year we enjoy chutneys, crumbles, juices and ciders.
Local varieties of apple are being introduced back into Devon
Apple tree in autumn
Local varieties of apple are being introduced back into Devon

Conservation on West Exmoor

Josey Field, a ranger on West Exmoor, has been working with the team of staff and volunteers in North Devon to restore many orchards which had sadly fallen into decline.

‘Some of our orchards are extremely old, like the one at West Challacombe Manor, which has veteran apple trees possibly 80 years old. It is a hive of biodiversity, with trees dripping in mosses and lichen, and we regularly prune, guard and clear scrub in the orchard.'

'Some ocrhards are only just springing into life, like the one at Heddon Valley which we planted in 2017 with money from Tesco and Groundworks.' 

‘Over the next few years we plan to increase the number of fruit trees and orchards on the property, planting more traditional orchards and mixing fruit trees in with our wood pasture at Kipscombe Farm. If you are interested in joining one of our pruning, planting or cider making days in the autumn we are always looking for volunteers!’

Find out what apple events are near you this autumn.