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3 Good Reasons to Preserve Traditional Orchards

3 Good Reasons to Preserve Traditional Orchards


Traditional orchards have been in decline since the 50’s. What can we do? Why should we care?


There was a time when a traditional orchard was a feature of most farms, part of the small scale mixed farming model that existed before the second world war.


It could be anything from 5 to 50 trees, standards or half-standards planted 8-10 meters apart, and tall enough to graze livestock beneath them. Distinct from the serried rows of easily harvested, semi-dwarf trees grown in commercial orchards.


Image source: Pinterest.

Image source: Pinterest.


They were managed extensively, with a light touch. Usually a mix of apples, pears, damsons, plums, walnuts and cherries. Yet changes to agriculture, food distribution, the economy and development mean that we’ve lost 60% of these traditional orchards since the 1950s.


Here we investigate three good reasons to preserve traditional orchards.


Regional Diversity

Each region in the UK had its own special varieties. Named cultivars, bred and grafted locally that were suited to the local soil and weather conditions.


Local heirloom varieties include:


  • East Lothian Pippin
  • White Melrose
  • and Scotch Dumpling


If nothing is done to preserve traditional orchards these varieties will die out, taking skills and heritage with them.


Our landscapes will also lose their character and charm.


A full list of Scottish apples can be found in ‘Apples in Scotland’ by John Butterworth.


Wildlife and Biodiversity

Orchards support a huge range of species comparative to other land uses. They offer a variety of habitats, grass meadow, walls, hedgerows, fallen and standing deadwood.


Fruit trees age faster than other trees, they develop veteran characteristics such as dead or decaying limbs at an earlier age. These limbs support a range of insects and fungi.


The combination of habitats offered by traditional orchards is particularly important to certain rare species of bird and insect such as the:


  • bullfinch
  • and spotted flycatcher.


Economic Diversity

Preserving, or restoring a traditional orchard in the hope of selling your crop is a credible aspiration but it’s best to be realistic about what you might achieve.


Naomi Slade, botanist and orchard grower set about restoring and re-planting an orchard in Wales. Principally she was motivated to preserve heirloom species, heritage and wildlife but she also produced a boutique apple juice, using named varieties which she sold locally. Acknowledging this would never make her rich, she says:


‘I resolved to try to make the rural dream if not pay for itself, then at least make a modest contribution to its own upkeep.’


What you can do

If you have 5 or more fruit trees, Orchard Revival want to hear from you. They have been working to catalogue Scotland’s orchards with the aim of encouraging preservation and restoration.


Restoring and Managing a Traditional Orchard

There are a huge number of resources online offering guidance on restoration. Clyde Valley Orchards is a group dedicated to preserving traditional orchards in an area of Scotland once known as Scotland’s Fruit Basket. Their guide to restoring and managing a fruit orchard is comprehensive.



Orchard Revival are looking for volunteers to help support their work. The Orchard Network also has a list of orchard groups in England, Scotland and Wales. All these groups are delighted to welcome people with an interest in orchards. There’s no need to have your own.


Visit an Apple Day




October is of course harvest time for fruit. There are hundreds of Apple Days up and down the country. At apple days you can expect to find:


  • Information on what types of tree to plant if you’re thinking of growing fruit trees.
  • How to prune, graft and grow.
  • An apple pressing service if you take your harvest along (do check this though!).
  • Fun activities for families, toffee apple making, apple art, etc.


Here in the Borders we’re lucky to have our Apple Day at Harestanes Countryside Centre, near Ancrum. The event reputedly features over 200 varities of apples and fruit from Alec West’s renowned orchard in Coldstream. See VisitKelso for details.


Plant an orchard

Lastly of course, we can all do our bit by planting more fruit trees. Even if you only have a balcony you can still enjoy homegrown apples and plums. Self-fertile, dwarf fruit trees grown on M27 rootstock grow to 1.5-2m making them ideal for containers and small gardens.


If you enjoyed this post and know of anyone with an old orchard looking for love, please ‘like’ and ‘share’ this post using the social buttons. Thank you.