Fruit growers should consider the economic as well as environmental advantages of planting non-fruit trees around orchards, according to a new report from the Woodland Trust.
Partnerships manager Helen Chesshire said at the National Fruit Show (16-17 October): "Non-cropping trees in orchards can serve a range of uses, from shelter to hosting pollinators and insects useful for pest management, to wood fuel and even alleviating drought.
"They also have a role in wider landscape issues including enhancing visual amenity," she added. "Retailers increasingly want to know about the sustainability of the farms they buy from."
But the Trees in Orchards report warns that any planting should be carefully planned "to avoid adverse outcomes such as wind tunnelling, the harbouring of disease and the creation of frost pockets".
Chesshire said: "It has to be designed on an individual farm level. The Woodland Trust offers free advice to farmers and growers, and can visit your farm to advise on specifics. We have managed to retain funding for this during the recession."
The trust can also help landowners access other sources of funding, she added. "But the landowner must offer input, in either costs, labour or materials."
The Woodland Trust and Harper Adams University are also conducting the first long-term monitoring of agro-forestry or alley-cropping systems in the UK.
"We are looking at it on a 10- to 15-year timescale," said Helen Chesshire. "There is evidence there from other countries, but so far nothing on the UK."