The National Trust Is Planning To Plant 78 Traditional Orchards Across The Country
The traditional orchard has seen a large decline in numbers over the years, and the National Trust want to change this. As a part of the Wildlife and Nature strategy released in 2015 the National Trust stated their ambition to create 25,000ha (62,000 acres) of what they call ‘priority habitat’ by 2025. As such they now plan to build 68 new orchards across the country to help achieve this target.
The number of traditional orchards across the UK has more than halved in England since 1950. 60% have been lost due to developments, changes in agricultural practices and general neglect. Older orchards can be difficult and costly to maintain due to the labour that needs to be employed to harvest and prune those older trees, which are generally not as commercially productive as bush trees. The National Trust now manages approximately 200 orchards and believes that they are of paramount importance in the fight to stop the steep decline of insect and bird numbers this country has seen over recent years.
Areas that have been identified to plant these new orchards include Mottisfont in Hampshire and the Penrose Estate in south Cornwall. In addition, plans to plant plum, pear, apple and damson trees to help bolster efforts will take place on the Gower peninsula in south Wales and Gunby estate in Lincolnshire.
Killerton for example has 50 acres of traditional orchard with over 100 varieties of apple trees. However, imported fruit at cheaper prices has reduced the demand for these ‘home-grown’ apples which has played a part in the 90% of orchards which have been lost in Devon since the 1950’s. Orchards rely on their crop to help raise money towards their upkeep with the National Trust running events and opportunities such as an annual ‘Apple Weekend’ which is full of activities including the chance to see their Victorian cider press in action if you head over to the Cotehele orchard in Cornwall.
Traditional orchards differ from the ‘modern’ orchards which have been planted in recent years. Modern orchards tend to comprise of low growing trees planted closely together whilst traditional orchards were planted more openly. Due to the many years these trees have been around they have become home to trees that span a variety of different ages. This is important for an orchard to be successful in catering for the local wildlife, as veteran trees for example can have hollow trunks and rot holes which form suitable habitats for many creatures. Maintaining these traditional orchards by planting more trees ensures the continuity of these habitats over the years.
The range of wildlife, plants and fungi that orchards can play home to is incredibly diverse. Hedgehogs and bats, two creatures which have been in serious decline for years now could benefit from this type of habitat. Bugs such as bees, beetles, moths and butterflies, and birds such as finches, yellow hammers, owls and even Sparrowhawks have been spotted taking residency in orchards. Fungi such as orchard tooth fungus and lichens play an important part in the preservation of the ecosystem by breaking down dead plant and animal matter.
Dr David Bullock, head of species and habitat conservation at The National Trust has been reported as saying: “We identified traditional orchards as being of particular importance because they provide the perfect home for a variety of birds, pollinators and insects, as well as being great for people.
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.”
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