Sep 06 2021

Woodland Trust leads ELM visit in Devon

In August  the Woodland Trust led a visit to the Dartington Hall Estate in south Devon to see first-hand a range of agroforestry systems and to examine how agroforestry could be supported within the new Environment Land Management Scheme (ELM). 
 
Helen Chesshire, lead farming advocate, Mick Bracken, outreach adviser and Rosie Walker, external affairs officer south west led the visit with 15 representatives from Defra, Natural England and Forestry Commission, all of whom are involved in developing policy and scheme design for ELM.   
 
Dartington Hall Estate has long been an innovative and philanthropic centre for agricultural methods and forestry practice, some very much of its historic time, but is now piloting projects at the cutting edge bringing the two disciplines together through investigating the potential for agroforestry methods. Mick Bracken has been working with the estate for a number of years on agroforestry, trialling tree guards and helping to shape their approach to modern forestry and woodland management.
 
In the morning the group visited two sites which have received trees through the Woodland Trust’s Trees for your Farm scheme, and it was great to see them growing well and starting to deliver benefits. 
 
The estate’s organic farm is testing growing productive trees within an agricultural crop – a silvoarable scheme. They have planted a wheat field with 20% trees – elders for growing elder flowers for cordials for a well-known Devon producer and apple trees. 
 
Monitoring is under way to research how the trees are affecting soil productivity through root and nutrient cycling, biodiversity through habitat creation and effects on microclimate through shade, wind and water retention of the soil. It is hoped that this will demonstrate that silvoarable offers greater economic resilience, than traditional monoculture farming, through the guaranteed return of the sales of a second crop, combined with more resilient soils and landscapes and greater overall productivity per hectare.
 
Following this they visited the Apricot Centre, a biodynamic farm, that is growing a variety of vegetable crops, through rotations of green manure between tightly planted strips of hazel. 
 
The wheat from the organic farm, and buckwheat and other grains from the Apricot Centre are milled through a local business and sold locally.  The hazel will be coppiced and chipped for either green manure or sold for wood burning fuels. 
 
In the afternoon the group also visited the tree guard trial in the estate’s dairy farm goat field and had a good discussion about the importance and cost of tree protection in silvopastoral schemes.
 
The visit allowed Mick to talk about the silvopastoral designs being trialled in Devon – a 12 year agroforestry experiment across eight farms that the Woodland Trust is running with the Soil Association’s Innovative Farmers, FWAG SW, Rothamsted Research and the Organic Research Centre. Read more: www.innovativefarmers.org/sharing-knowledge-from-the-field-labs/agroforestry/three-silvopasture-planting-designs-to-suit-your-farm/ 
 
It was a great opportunity to collectively discuss the challenges we need to overcome if agroforestry is to become a mainstream land use as well as the opportunities.  The group explored a range of questions including what is the role of agroforestry in climate change mitigation; how do we ensure it is valued for the other public goods it can deliver; how do we remove the barriers between agriculture and forestry? We identified the need for high quality advice and training for advisors and land managers if it is to be taken up; and asked how to scale up agroforestry and shift behaviour change in the markets which agriculture supplies.
 
For more information please contact Helen Chesshire helenchessire@woodlandtrust.org.uk
 
Words: Rosie Walker
Images: Helen Chesshire
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