A core issue: National Trust plans to help halt dramatic decline of traditional orchards as blossoms start to bloom

Press release
A visitor walkingthrough an apple orchard in blossom
Published : 26 Apr 2019 Last update : 27 Apr 2019

The National Trust will dramatically increase the number of some of the rarest and most time honoured habitats in the UK by planting dozens of traditional orchards.

The conservation charity currently looks after nearly 200 orchards, mainly planted with traditional apple varieties, but also plum, pear and damson.

But as part of an ambitious plan to encourage wildlife and halt the dramatic decline in orchards – 63 per cent since 1950 – the Trust will create 68 new orchards across England and Wales by 2025.

The loss of one of Britain’s most symbolic habitats is largely a symptom of changes in agricultural practices, market forces, neglect and pressures from development. 

The estimated area of traditional orchards currently in the UK is 25,350 hectares, making it one of the rarer priority habitats and the Trust is keen to reverse their decline.

Traditional orchards are far better for wildlife than commercial ones because they often contain very old trees, are given more space and wildflower meadows are often encouraged to grow underneath the trees to encourage pollinators to pollinate blossom when the trees burst into bloom.

They also aren’t treated with any pesticides.  Rangers and their volunteer teams keep a close eye on the trees and encourage tits and other insect eating birds to nest in the trees to help keep pests down.

Dr David Bullock, Head of Species and Habitat Conservation at the charity said: “We launched a new wildlife and nature strategy in 2015 which included an ambition to create 25,000 hectares of priority habitat by 2025. 

“We identified traditional orchards as being of particular importance because they provide the perfect for home for a variety of birds, pollinators and insects, as well as being great for people. 

“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.

“Older trees spaced widely provide sunlight, shade, grasslands, wild flowers, blossom and their resulting fruit.  The characterful trees, also often have dead wood, are very attractive to a range of insects and their prey; birds and bats.” 

Traditional orchards were listed as one of the 65 Priority Habitats in the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006.

David added: “Traditional orchards are also important for conserving heritage fruit varieties such as the cider apple Jackets and Petticoats, and the delicious Ashmead’s Kernel.

“They are also vital for people.  They provide us with delicious local and seasonal food and drink, they are places for people to enjoy and gather, have great cultural significance, and are places of beauty.”

Cotehele, in Cornwall is typically the first of the Trust’s orchards to bloom each year.  Its seven orchards cover approximately 15 acres (or six hectares) and are home to over 125 varieties of apple tree including the Cornish Honeypinnick, Limberlimb, Pig’s’ Nose and Lemon Pippin.

David Bouch, Head Gardener at Cotehele, says: “As we’re so far south, many flowers and trees come into bloom slightly earlier than elsewhere in the country because we experience milder winter temperatures.

“Apple blossom is such a delicate flower.  It starts off with a tinge of pink when in bud, before bursting forth to reveal a fragile, snowy white flower which, for me is hopefully a sign of the last of the frosts and the orchard bursting into life, from the bees to the wildflowers to the hope of a successful apple harvest.

“They 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’.

“Of course, the delicate blossom is very susceptible to the weather – but with good, stable conditions, it is a spring spectacle people can enjoy for up to three weeks.”

-Ends-

Images can be downloaded here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/84n90y9che8urh1/AAB7vfRE9Mr1njw6VFl0oZwwa?dl=0