Sheep tree snow Mains of Fincastle CREDIT Andrew Barbour high res.jpg

How can we unlock the potential of agroforestry in Scotland?

Barriers and opportunities of agroforestry

In January 2019, we brought together 40 forestry and farming stakeholders, including farmers, advisors and Scottish Forestry, to discuss barriers and opportunities for agroforestry in Scotland. These were their conclusions...

Barriers:

  • There is a perception among farmers (and industry) that you either do farming or forestry, whereas agroforestry is a combination of the two. ‘Agroforestry’ is frequently misunderstood, but we understand it to mean the integration of trees into farming systems.
  • There is not enough of understanding of how agroforestry improves farm business resilience (see below).
  • Farmers say the current forestry grants are too prescriptive for their individual farm or even region, which puts many off.
  • There is a knowledge gap in farm advisory around agroforestry which means often farm advisors and foresters don’t consider it as an option.

Picture: Farmer Andrew Barbour of Mains of Fincastle talked about his 'lightbulb moment' when he realised he could use trees in his livestock farming, such as for shelter. CREDIT: Andrew Barbour

Recommendations:

  • Amend forestry grants where possible, adding in more flexibility to suit the varying site conditions and farmers’ objectives
  • Make it possible for farmers to consult with woodland officers over their applications
  • Give farmers more initiative in proposing schemes for their own farm, or jointly with a neighbour’s
  • Include agroforestry in the Forestry Strategy, recognising that the integration of trees on farms can help meet the Scottish Government’s targets for tree planting
  • Make sure agroforestry is part of the pilot schemes for agricultural support that will be trialled until 2024
  • Explore and encourage a wider variety of tree species, moving away from the monoculture of Sitka
  • Consider building evaluation processes into the grant awards so evidence of benefits can be collected
  • Train more agroforestry advisors within SAC Consulting and the Farm Advisory Service. Increase resources to farm support and advisory services
  • Introduce the teaching of agroforestry onto agricultural courses at colleges and universities
  • Fund a series of demonstration farms across the country to showcase agroforestry best practice
  • Use the Rural Innovation Support Service to stimulate new groups on agroforestry and create a peer-to-peer network of farmers practicing agroforestry
  • Introduce funding for a collaborative measure to encourage farmers to work together at landscape scale
  • Make management of lowland deer a very high priority
  • Promote agroforestry, so negative perceptions are gradually replaced with knowledge and expertise

Picture: Trees can also provide forage and nutrition for livestock

Benefits of agroforestry:

  • It provides shelter and forage for animals
  • It sequesters carbon
  • It improves soil health (if diverse species are used)
  • It improves the use of less productive land
  • It provides an alternative income stream in timber
  • It increases biodiversity, providing habitat for owls, hedgehogs, birds and pollinators (depending on species and planting design)
  • It prevents water run-off, making land less vulnerable to drought and flooding
  • It mitigates diffuse pollution by reducing nitrogen run-off entering waterways and air pollution (ammonia)
  • It prevents soil erosion
  • It improves farm management through infrastructure such as fencing
  • It provides fuel for biomass boilers