On Monday 27th February, Westhumble residents, local volunteer groups and the National Trust’s Surrey Hills countryside team began a week of planting over 300 heritage fruit trees at Chapel Farm, near Dorking.
The 25 different heritage varieties of fruit trees include apples, pears, plums, mulberries and cobnuts. A local beekeeper has been invited to keep his beehives at the orchard. Once the trees are established, the community will be invited to enjoy the harvest.
Federico Ghittoni, Lead Ranger said: “We are delighted that so many people have come to help plant the new orchard. This orchard will be so important in providing a rich source of nectar for our bees and butterflies. It will also help keep heritage varieties alive by becoming a living seed bank“.
The creation of the orchard is part of a long-term collaboration between the National Trust and tenant farmer, Steve Conisbee, to help to address the national decline in wildlife; and become a more nature-friendly, but still commercially viable working farm.
The results of the changes that Steve Conisbee and the National Trust have made, are already beginning to show.
While cattle used to roam across the farm, areas have been sectioned off to be grazed for conservation purposes. This has allowed a diversity of grasses, herbs and nectar-rich flowers to bloom. Some parts of the farm have not been fertilized, which has allowed the land to recover its natural resources and allowed a wide range of plant life to flourish in the fields.
This has increased the number of butterflies at Chapel Farm such as the Rare Green Hairstreak, as well as invertebrates and insects. These in turn provide vital food for the local bat population and the declining population of farmland birds.
Over 7km hedgerows have been planted with native species such as blackthorn and hawthorn. These hedgerows are vital in helping to tackle climate change as they capture carbon, and provide habitats and corridors for wildlife.
Stephanie Fudge, General Manager for the Surrey Hills, said: “This is a wonderful example of the local community, the National Trust and a committed farmer working together to make the land a better place for nature – for this generation and for many more to come. The new orchard has been made possible by the generosity of our supporters. When you support National Trust, it helps us to ensure that special places like Chapel Farm are cared for and protected.“