Integrating trees on farms is re-emerging in the UK as result of concern for declining wildlife numbers and climate change. Agroforestry has a multitude of benefits: it enhances biodiversity, resilience and ecosystem services, while providing timber, fruit and nuts which can be sold as an added income. However, while we desperately need to increase our nut, fruit and timber production in the UK, in order to reduce transportation costs, it is vital to plant suitable trees for the landscape as disturbing biodiverse, special places could have more negatives than positives effect. Getting professional advice is advisable or at least read up on the subject more first.
There are four main types of agroforestry:
Silvopastoral consists of combining trees and livestock by planting rows of tree, tree clumps or individual trees in pasture fields. Research shows that the shade and shelter provided by trees reduces livestock mortality and improves animal welfare. Trees also provide animals with alternative, mixed health forage which can be medicinal.
Silvoarable consists of combining trees with crops by planting trees within fields. Trees can improve the soil structure and organic matter content, affecting nutrient cycling and water holding capacity, reduce soil erosion and prevent downstream flooding. Crops are sheltered from the wind and can access more nutrients brought up by the deep roots of trees. By adding diversity the system becomes more resilient.
HEDGEROWS, SHELTERBELTS AND RIPARIAN BUFFER STRIPS
Hedgerows are the most widespread agroforestry system, often acting as a field boundary while providing important corridors for wildlife, shade for livestock and supplying timber and fruit. Shelterbelts are planted in a linear format on the edge of a field to reduce wind speed, protect crops and livestock, and reduce erosion. These are becoming increasingly necessary. Riparian planting is when trees are planted along watercourses such as streams, rivers and lakes to act as a buffer to protect the water quality from farm run-off.
FOOD FORESTS OR EDIBLE FORESTS
Food forests or edible forests or forest gardens mimics the structures of a natural forest, with multiple layers of plants stacked vertically to increase overall production. Again, having such diversity increases resilience and reduces problems from pest and disease. Animals can be integrated, such as pigs, sheep, ducks and a wide variety of mushrooms, tree syrups, fruits, nuts, medicinal plants and crops can be grown.
The UK government is aiming to plant 30 million trees a year working up to the forthcoming Environmental Land Management scheme. Defra announced that silvoarable (with a cereal or bio-energy crop), silvopasture, riparian forest buffer and shelterbelts will be eligible for the Basic Payment scheme (BPS), provided other BPS rules are complied with. County councils also have some money available to support planting as well as the Woodland Trust.
Selecting species to plant requires careful consideration. The soil type, climate, root structure and years to maturity are some examples of factors to bear in mind. A management plan and cash-flow forecast are advised before planting to ensure agroforestry systems are successful in achieving aims. Agroforestry consultancies, such as the Farm Woodland Forum and Abacus, can provide guidance and advice.
WHERE TO FIND MORE INFORMATION
The Agroforestry Handbook by the Soil Association
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RePJ3rJa1Wg – great example of an edible forest, permaculture principles.
The MOREwoods scheme by the Woodland Trust – https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/plant-trees/large-scale-planting/morewoods/
The Woodland Carbon Guarantee government carbon payment scheme – https://www.gov.uk/guidance/woodland-carbon-guarantee
Precision Agroforestry – https://regenfarmer.com/precision-agroforestry/