The Woodland Trust joined LEAF as a corporate member last year. Helen Chesshire, Senior Advisor at the Woodland Trust explains more about the Trust, why it supports LEAF and the wider benefits of trees on UK farmland.
Tell us a bit more about The Woodland Trust
The Woodland Trust is the UK’s leading woodland conservation charity. It looks after more than 1,000 woods covering 190 square kilometres. The Trust aims to protect, restore and create new native woodland cover across the UK, which is one of the least wooded in the whole of Europe.
Why has The Woodland Trust joined LEAF
The Trust wishes to create healthy, resilient and wildlife-rich wooded landscapes and with 70% of the land in the UK managed for agricultural production it means that the farming sector is key to helping us achieve this. As the leading organisation promoting sustainable farming and food, LEAF was an obvious partner. We are hoping to work with LEAF to help raise awareness of the role of trees on UK farmland as well as to demonstrate best practice and encourage farmers to value, preserve and protect their trees and woodlands for conservation benefits.
We have worked with David Rose, LEAF Marque farmer in Nottinghamshire to create a silvoarable scheme in a bid to nourish his soils, improve crop yield, attract pollinators, encourage local wildlife and create an additional source of produce. We would welcome an opportunity to work with other LEAF farmers who are interested in increasing tree cover on their farms.
What does Integrated Farm Management [sustainable farming] mean to the Woodland Trust?
As a whole farm business approach IFM delivers more sustainable farming systems which in turn can help create a more resilient landscape. Trees are a cost effective tool that can deliver a wide range of services on farms to help achieve this whilst also delivering important services for the wider environment. For example, a shelter belt can improve crop water efficiency which has been proven to increase wheat yields by 3.5% – more in dry years. It can also provide shelter in cold, wet and windy weather reducing the incidence of neonatal lamb losses. They can also help provide habitat for pollinators and other wildlife and aid movement of species as they seek to adapt to the changing climate.
Similarly, narrow strips of trees along contours or waterways can protect soils from erosion by increasing the water infiltration rates of the soil, reducing surface water runoff and damage from poaching. But they can also help improve water quality by trapping agricultural pollutants before they enter water courses. Planting up unproductive areas or awkward corners can improve the management of the farm; provide a sustainable source of on-farm firewood as well as a valuable wildlife habitat.
Why trees are good for your farming business
The last few years have proved very difficult for farmers with unprecedented challenges from both drought and floods. Climate change models predict that extreme weather events are likely to become more frequent, so finding ways to mitigate the effects is becoming increasingly urgent. Research shows that managing existing trees and planting additional trees in the right place can help farms become more resilient, and more cost effective. From simple hedgerow plantings to fully integrated agroforestry systems, trees can help address a range of issues affecting sustainable production by contributing to shade, shelter, water and pollution management, reducing soil erosion, pollination, Integrated Pest Management and product diversification.
How can initiatives like Open Farm Sunday help in raising public awareness of the importance of trees and woodland?
The Woodland Trust aims to inspire everyone to enjoy and value woods and trees. All our woods are freely open to the public and we run a wide range of free events including community tree planting days, guided walks, bush craft and much more. We know from experience that the simple act of planting a tree can stay with a child forever opening their eyes to the importance of nature. So we know that initiatives such as Open Farm Sunday are very effective in helping people to understand and value the food our farmers produce and the environment that supports it. Trees conjure up an image of beauty, power and longevity; highlighting the role they play in sustainable farming systems can only help to ensure future generations appreciate the balance required between an increasing global demand for food and recognition that the natural (farmed) environment is fundamental in supporting ecosystem services such as clean and plentiful water as well as food production.
Tell us a bit more about how The Woodland Trust supports farmers to increase the number of trees on their farms?
The Woodland Trust is working in partnership with farmers across the country to study the effects of strategic tree planting on farms. This includes help to plant shelter belts, riparian strips, pasture trees and small areas of woodland or to develop silvorable/pastoral schemes.
Our Woodland Creation Advisors can provide free advice and support providing a whole farm tree planting assessment, design of planting scheme and identification of potential funding support. In return, we ask that you maintain the trees and allow us to monitor the effects on your farm for an agreed period of time. The results will help us develop more UK based evidence and an opportunity to influence future agricultural policy.