Agroforestry offers widespread, quantifiable benefits for farms and the environment a conference has heard

Hosted by the Soil Association, the Woodland Trust and the Royal Forestry Society (RFS), the Agroforestry 2017 conference drew farmers, foresters, landowners and researchers to learn about how farming and forestry can be profitably and sustainably combined.

Sophie Churchill addressing the conference - image: Philip Formby/WTML
Sophie Churchill addressing the conference - image: Philip Formby/WTML

RFS president Sophie Churchill said: "Combining trees with other crops gives farmers the opportunity to make their land even more productive, especially when they manage the trees from the beginning, with their aims and future customers in mind.

"All farmers need to focus on being competitive and sustainable, and the clever use of well-managed trees can really help both of these."

Attendees at the conference heard from a range of international speakers explain how a wide range of crops can be combined effectively, and how the need to tackle soil erosion and cope with climate change will make trees an ever more important ingredient for productive cropping and livestock farming.

Among UK farmers who have already implemented the practice, The Lakes Free Range Egg Company owner David Brass said: "At first, we were planting trees simply to encourage our hens to range, having recognised their inclination towards sheltered areas.

"But the benefits went far beyond that original motive and, as well as the undeniable improvements to the hens' welfare, we’ve seen better soil water retention, more biodiversity and crucially a higher quality product."

Woodland Trust chief executive Beccy Speight said: "Agroforestry needs to be a mainstream component of a new fully integrated land management policy. The practical examples and robust evidence we have heard today of trees supporting farm businesses and new commercial opportunities are powerful tools with which to influence a new, post-Brexit policy.

"We are calling on the Government to take a new and ambitious approach which tackles administrative blockages, harnesses innovative sources of funding and properly reflects the valuable interplay between trees, woods, forestry, farming and the environment."

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