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Our work at Plas yn Rhiw

The orchard planted in a meadow above the house at Plas yn Rhiw in Gwynedd, Wales.
A view of the orchard above the house at Plas yn Rhiw. | © National Trust Images/Joe Wainwright

In a quiet corner of Plas yn Rhiw, a field was transformed to become home to a collection of fruit trees and a flourishing meadow, now full of colour with the smell of blossom and the buzz of bees. Read on to find out about the work being done to preserve a habitat that is rich in both wildflowers and wildlife.

The root of the project

Back in 2010 the gardener at Plas yn Rhiw set about researching and compiling a list of Welsh fruit trees, drawing up a plan for the new development.

The following year with help from a local secondary school more than 140 trees were planted, including apple, plum, pear and cherry.

At the time this was the largest known collection of Welsh fruit trees in the world. Since it was converted from a sheep-grazing field into an orchard, the site has dramatically changed in a relatively short space of time.

Making a meadow

The orchard is managed like a hay meadow, being cut with a Ryetec flail mower in late August or early September, after the seeds have had time to set and disperse.

The cuttings are also removed so that the nutrient levels in the soil decrease over time, which is what a lot of wild flowers prefer. 

A gardener working in the orchard at Plas yn Rhiw, in Gwynedd, Wales.
A gardener working in the orchard at Plas yn Rhiw. | © National Trust Images/Malcolm Davies

A key ingredient

Yellow rattle is often dubbed the ‘meadow maker’ – it is partially parasitic and weakens the grasses, making it easier for wild flowers to thrive. 

Ysgol Crud y Werin, a nearby primary school, helped us collect yellow rattle seeds from one of our tenant’s fields, for spreading in clusters throughout the orchard.

The yellow rattle has taken exceptionally well and has spread throughout the site, and when the seeds are ripe the distinctive rattling sound can be heard as you walk between the apple trees.

Tracking progress

A staggering 97% of meadows have been lost since the Second World War, so it is important we seize opportunities to re-introduce and restore this wildlife-rich habitat.

Every July we complete a survey of the grassland to see how it is developing and whether management methods are working. The surveys show the rate of wildflower and herbaceous species have increased considerably in relation to the grasses. 

This has attracted the attention of a local beekeeper, providing the perfect location for him to set up some of his hives and is an interesting addition to the site. The bees have been great in helping with the pollination rates, resulting in good crops from relatively young apple trees.

An outdoor classroom

The variety of teachable topics the orchard offers has provided a great opportunity for activities with schools and groups, from the process of pollination and mini-beast hunts to food chains and wild art.

Thank you

With your ongoing support, we're able to continue our vital conservation work. Thank you for helping to protect these special places.

Red flowers bloom in the garden in front of the stone-built house, in summer at Plas yn Rhiw, Gwynedd, Wales


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