Orchards vanishing from the landscape, says National Trust

By Helen Briggs
Environment correspondent

Apple treesImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Blossom-bearing trees are magnets for wildlife

Orchards are vanishing from the landscape with an area the size of the Isle of Wight lost since 1900, according to research carried out by the National Trust.

The disappearance of more than half of orchards across England and Wales is having an impact on flora and fauna, the organisation said.

Orchards have been torn down to make way for houses and farming.

The biggest decline has been seen in the south west.

Annie Reilly of the National Trust said: "Many of the orchards which were once on the peripheries of our towns and cities in the 18th and 19th centuries have been lost with urban expansion and often remain as map evidence or street names only."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Orchard apples are among the first to flower

The colourful display of springtime blossom has been part of British folklore and culture for centuries, with fruit trees in orchards among the first to bloom.

"It matters for people to be able to enjoy the beauty of that burst of blossom in the spring and it matters for nature," said head of historic environment at the trust, Tom Dommett.

Traditional orchards can support wildlife, such as flies, bees, bats and birds. The knotted trunks and branches of trees provide a home for patrolling bats; while flowers are a food source for pollinating insects.

The researchers used artificial intelligence to analyse historic maps held by the National Library of Scotland, combined with data sets compiled by Natural England and The People's Trust for Endangered Species.

According to the National Trust:

  • Modern and traditional orchards across England and Wales have declined by 56%, with 43,017 hectares (106,297 acres) left growing today - equivalent to an area slightly larger than the Isle of Wight
  • Traditional orchards in England and Wales have declined by 81% (78,874 hectares/194,902 acres)
  • Kent is the English county with the highest total orchard cover today. Alongside Suffolk and East Sussex, it is one of only three English counties that has more orchards now than 100 years ago, due to more modern orchards being planted.

The National Trust has 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.