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How we’re bringing blossom back

An ancient track, called Blackberry Lane, leads off between dense hedgerows on the estate at Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Kent.
An ancient track, called Blackberry Lane, on the estate at Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Kent | © National Trust Images/Jonathan Buckley

Our research shows that orchards and hedgerows are vanishing. This means not as many homes for wildlife and far fewer 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 creating new hedgerows.

Surveying the losses

Our recent research into hedgerows on land we care for in England and Wales shows that 33 per cent, nearly 3,300km of boundaries, have disappeared since the start of the 20th century. This compares to a 50 per cent loss of hedgerows across the rest of the country. A similar pattern can be seen across most regions and countries but the East of England has lost nearly half (48 per cent), more than 400km of the boundaries recorded in 1900.

This reflects the story of loss highlighted by our research on orchards in 2022. It revealed that more than half (56 per cent) of orchards had been lost with only 43,017ha (hectares) left growing in England and Wales today. Traditional orchards have also decreased by 81 per cent (78,874ha) – equivalent to an area the size of the West Midlands.

Impacts on humans and wildlife

Hedges have a vital role to play in the natural world. They help wildlife move around landscapes, provide food and shelter for many species and store carbon. Their bursts of blossom – blackthorn, hawthorn and dog rose, wild cherry, apple and plum – are not only beautiful but are also a good source of nectar for bumblebees and butterflies. The fruit they produce in autumn is eaten by flocks of migrating and overwintering birds, including redwing and fieldfare.

The loss in orchards has had an impact on us all. Tom Dommett, Head of Historic Environment, 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 are excellent hunting areas for bats. Not only this, but the blossom attracts pollinators, which are vital to our ecosystem.

Our research paints a picture of a more complex, diverse landscape at the beginning of the 20th century – almost certainly more blossom-filled and richer in nature.

A quote by Tom DommettNational Trust Head of Historic Environment
Hawthorn in flower at Stockbridge Down, Hampshire
Hawthorn in flower at Stockbridge Down, Hampshire | © National Trust Images/John Miller

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're planting new traditional orchards at places such as Stourhead in Wiltshire, Arlington Court in Devon, Brockhampton in Herefordshire, Attingham Park in Shropshire and Westhumble in Surrey. We're also planting new fruit trees at Cotehele in Cornwall, which is already home to traditional orchards.

Over the next five years, we’ll be continuing our ambition to bring back blossom to areas that really need it, and to ensure urban communities can 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.

Find out more about our tree planting


We've been working to restore hedgerow loss. In the last 20 years, we've planted a total of 220km of hedgerow across many places in our care, including Killerton in Devon, Dunham Massey in Cheshire and Wallington in Northumberland. We're planting 125km of additional hedgerows at these places over the next decade as part of the National Trust's commitment to net zero.

Why have orchards and hedgerows declined?

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.

Meanwhile, the loss of hedgerows on the land we look after is likely to have happened before it came into our care or as a result of farming practices in line with government policy.

Ranger in National Trust fleece inspecting white blossom on tree in orchard
Ranger inspecting damson blossom | © National Trust Images/John Miller

Using AI to track the loss

Our research on hedgerows in England and Wales was carried out using artificial intelligence (AI). Working with research partner ArchAI, we used AI to better understand historic OS maps from the National Library of Scotland and compared the resulting data to modern-day mapping. This allowed us to determine how many hedgerows were lost, retained and created since the start of the 20th century across 100,000 hectares of land we look after.

In what was the first comprehensive review of both traditional and modern orchards in England and Wales in 2022, we used data from historic OS maps, the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and Natural England. This was also analysed using AI mapping technologies from ArchAI.

An enclosed tree on the developing wood pasture at Horner Farm, Holnicote Estate, Somerset

Help plant more trees

For only £5, you can plant a tree that will tackle climate change and support life for years to come. Your support will help to plant and establish 20 million trees by 2030.

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