National Trust vows to ‘bring back the blossom’ as new research reveals massive drop in orchards since 1900s

“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), over twice the size of Bristol – of its orchards, the single biggest loss in terms of hectares of any region.” 

www.nationaltrust.org.uk (Extract)

The National Trust study is the first comprehensive review of both traditional and modern orchards in England and Wales. Data from historic maps has been compared with data from People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and Natural England, and analysed using artificial intelligence (AI) mapping technologies from ArchAI Ltd. It is aimed at improving understanding of the historic loss of blossom across landscapes, and the impact on nature and wildlife.

The research exposed a huge 81 per cent decline, (78,874Ha), in traditional orchards in England and Wales – equivalent to an area close to the size of the west Midlands – spelling bad news for nature.

And, even when taking each country in isolation, England’s figures alone revealed a loss of 82 per cent of traditionally managed orchards (77,926Ha) – twice the size of the Isle of Wight.

‘Total blossom’, ie the area from all types of orchard in England has more than halved (56 per cent) since around 1900, with 41,777Ha left growing today. 

In Wales a loss of 948Ha of traditionally managed orchards, 48 per cent, since around 1900, is significant but compares much more favourably than England, likely due to the number of orchards in Wales which are small  family-scale orchards that are not exposed to the development and modernisation pressures experienced in England, particularly in the commercial sector. 

‘Total blossom’ from orchards in Wales has fallen by 38 per cent to 1,240Ha since around 1900.

Tom Dommett, Head of Historic Environment at the National Trust says: “Using cutting edge technology we now have a much better understanding of how we’ve managed landscapes in the past, which is invaluable when thinking about how to tackle the nature and biodiversity crisis that we are facing, and restoring nature.” 

Looking in more detail at orchard loss in the regions, the north of England, whilst being home to only a relatively small proportion of the orchards in England and Wales in 1900, has seen the largest regional declines in orchard area, with 80 per cent in the north-west, 78 per cent in the north-east and 77 per cent in Yorkshire and Humber.  

However, 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), over twice the size of Bristol – of its orchards, the single biggest loss in terms of hectares of any region. 

London and the south-east fared much better with the smallest overall orchard losses of 24 per cent, largely due to the number of significant modern orchards which have been planted.  However, the region has seen a reduction of 84 per cent in the area of traditional orchards, representing big losses in nature value.

In a bid to bring blossom back to landscapes in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the charity has now vowed to plant four million blossoming trees as part of its commitment to plant and establish 20 million trees across England, Wales and Northern Ireland by 2030.

It is also planting new traditional orchards at sites to include Stourhead in Wiltshire, Arlington Court in Devon, Kingston Lacy in Dorset, Brockhampton in Herefordshire, Attingham Park in Shropshire, Westhumble in Surrey and is planting new fruit trees at Cotehele in Cornwall which is already home to traditional orchards.    

For further information and to make a donation towards the National Trust’s tree planting ambitions visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/blossom-watch