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

The area of traditional orchards in Nottinghamshire has dropped by 78% since the early 1900s according to new research by the National Trust resulting in huge losses in habitats for nature, and meaning fewer people can enjoy one of nature’s great spectacles – spring blossom.

Results are published today as the conservation charity kicks off this year’s #BlossomWatch campaign, now in its second full year.

BlossomWatch is the Trust’s annual campaign to encourage people to enjoy and celebrate spring blossom, with the aim of embedding an annual cultural event similar to Japan’s ‘hanami’ in the UK.  It includes digital sharing of images as blossom sweeps up the land from south to north, and events and installations at National Trust places.

Espaliered branch of a blossoming fruit tree at Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire. Clumber is a beautiful expanse of parkland, heath and woods covering more than 3,800 acres, once belonging to the Dukes of Newcastle.

This study is the first comprehensive review of both traditional and modern orchards in England and Wales using data from the National Library of Scotland’s historic map collection, 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 results reveal a loss in orchards of 56 per cent, with just 43,017Ha left growing today – equivalent to an area slightly larger than the Isle of Wight.

The research also 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 orchards in England has more than halved (56 per cent) since around 1900, with 41,777Ha left growing today.

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.”

Blossoming fruit trees at Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire. Clumber is a beautiful expanse of parkland, heath and woods covering more than 3,800 acres, once belonging to the Dukes of Newcastle.

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.

Jago Moles, Countryside Manager at Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire, said

“Like many places, the original traditional orchard was also lost here at Clumber Park. However, using historical mapping we were able to fully reinstate the original duke’s orchard this winter. We have planted over 80 trees that alongside the enclosing hedgerow will provide blossom for many years to come, allowing this area to develop into a haven for nature and people as it grows to maturity. This will further enhance the display of blossoming trees we have within the walled kitchen garden, as well as across the wider estate.”

With the blossom season now upon us, the National Trust and the Orchard Network, will be particularly encouraging people to celebrate the joy of blossom at the end of April.  For more information visit www.orchardnetwork.org.uk/orchard-blossom-day and www.nationaltrust.org.uk/blossom-watch

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

Posted on 29 March 2022

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Jack Woolley