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Tapping into the potential of agroforestry

Published on: 14 September 2022

A new Newcastle University study has highlighted actions that could be used to increase tree cover on farmed land in the North East.

Led by Dr Marion Pfeifer and PhD researcher Eleanor Moore, the Newcastle University team set out to identify how farmers perceive opportunities and constraints for tree planting on the land they manage.

To get that information, they visited farms, implemented stakeholder interviews and run a workshop with farmers and stakeholders from organisations such as the Woodland Trust, Industry (such as biofuel associated business) and the National Farmers’ Union. The research was conducted in Northumberland, in partnership with the Forestry Commission and Great Northumberland Forest.

The god news is that farmers generally seemed to be willing to try agroforestry if it can be integrated into their farm business and managed for profit. However, the scientists found that participants differed in their understanding on what constitutes agroforestry and how their ideas for integrating trees into the farm business could be aligned with government incentives offered to promote increase in tree cover in the region.

In this region in particular, farmers were mostly interested in planting trees as part of a livestock-tree system, which requires to establish a more solid evidence base around the benefits trees can provide to improve livestock health, such as through providing additional food resources as well as protection from extreme climates. The latter is particularly important, given recent heatwaves that have affected the country.

Additionally, cost-effective methods that need to be implemented to protect the growing trees from livestock as well as wildlife including der and hares would need to be trialled and explained in training workshops or on specialised demonstration sites for tree restoration on farmed land.

Increasing the adoption of agroforestry in the region

Understanding what farmers need and want is an essential step towards creation of policies for increased tree numbers in the North East. Agroforestry can be an integral part of integrated farm management, but the farming community is diverse and as such will desire flexible funding and tailored, accessible advice to encourage innovation. Based on their findings, the scientists recommend policy priority actions to increase the adoption of agroforestry in the region.

The first step involves promoting knowledge of the different agroforestry types in the UK. The researchers recommend the creation of agroforestry demonstration farms and establishing a North East practitioner group to support farmers.

Second, is the need to integrate relevant government policies and increasing and maintaining funding for agroforestry as part of integrated farm management.

And third, to maximise the benefits of agroforestry, the researchers highlight the need for tailored and easily available advice for farmers using tools that build on current knowledge exchange practices used by farmers.

Dr Marion Pfeifer, Associate Professor, Landscape Ecology and Management at Newcastle University’s School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, said: “This pilot study, generously supported by Newcastle University and the Forestry Commission, is a first step towards sustainable and effectively increasing tree coverage in England’s North-East. We have a proud and diverse farming community that already demonstrates a growing interest in agroforestry as one tool to be integrated into the management of their farm. We now need to establish robust evidence that can support advice to farmers on ‘what to plant, when and where’ to maximise benefits provided by agroforestry and mitigate for any potential negative impacts such as increased disease transmission.’

Eleanor Moore, PhD student at the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, added: “This work helped us understand the challenges farmers face in the North East with integrating trees and has provided valuable insights for decision-makers in the region and a basis for future research projects.”


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