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Trees can play an important role for agriculture, not only to help productivity, but also to prepare for climate change and improve the local environment, writes Mike Townsend FICFor

Roots of farm future

he Read report Combating Climate Change a role for UK forests, the UK Low-Carbon Transition plan, country forestry strategies and the recent Welsh Assembly Governments woodland vision, among others, all make the case for an expansion of UK forestry to mitigate and adapt to climate change. At the same time, we have moved from a period of over-production in many agricultural commodities in the EU to one in which food supplies are seen as vulnerable, driven by uncertainties of climate change, growing world population, and fears of peak oil. Pressure has grown on the Government to support farming, with calls for greater self-sufficiency in food and increased agricultural production. Against this background, other land uses must be seen either to support productive agriculture or deliver greater public good. Undoubtedly, there will be opportunities on some of the least productive agricultural land for more expansive woodland creation, but a strong case can also be made for integration of more trees into productive agricultural landscapes as a tool in agricultural adaptation and delivering wider public goods.

Woodfuel harvested from existing woodland or by creating new woodland will displace fossil fuels and reduce the carbon footprint of a farm


Predictions of climate change are well rehearsed increased summer droughts, particularly in the south, milder winters with greater winter rainfall, but an increase in severe weather events including heatwaves, higher intensity rainfall and storms. Importantly, severe weather events are likely to include high-intensity summer rainfall, despite a drop in total summer rainfall. This increases the risk of surface water runoff, with consequent soil erosion and nutrient loss, sedimentation and pollution of water courses. Buffer strips of trees alongside watercourses, and contour planting of trees and hedges can reduce runoff of manure and fertiliser, and sedimentation. Loss of soil and nutrients is a cost to the farm, but it is also a cost to the public. Reducing runoff improves water quality and reduces downstream costs for water purification. Trees next to

watercourses offer shade reducing water temperatures and improving oxygen levels to the benefit of fish and other wildlife. Woodland can reduce floods from hill slopes and in headwater catchments. Targeted woodland creation may have a marked impact on flood flows at a local level, while on floodplains, computer models show it can mitigate large floods by absorbing and delaying the release of flood flows.


For livestock farmers, rising summer temperatures will increase heat stress to housed and outdoor livestock. Trees provide direct shade, but also reduce air temperature through evaporative cooling as a result of transpiration. Using deciduous trees provides the greatest shading effect during the summer months, but allows available solar gain to benefit buildings and livestock during the winter. Shelter belts can also have a positive impact on the food efficiency of outdoor livestock and improving lambing percentage through reduction in the chill factor. An increase in the frequency and severity of storms creates greater need for crop shelter to reduce


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physical damage, reduce water loss through evapotranspiration and to encourage crop pollination. At least 39 crops grown for their fruit or seed in the UK are insect pollinated, and a further 32 need insects for propagative seed production. The economic value of pollination by bees in the UK is estimated between 120 and 200 million per year. Well-sited windbreaks, particularly of native tree species, can increase the abundance of bees and other pollinating insects, providing shelter and breeding areas and acting as a food source at critical times of year. Wind breaks are particularly effective when integrated into existing hedgerows.

Agriculture is responsible for about seven per cent of UK greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Planting trees on farms, for whatever purpose, will have some benefit in capturing atmospheric carbon. Perhaps more significantly, the shelter for housing and buildings can reduce energy consumption by 10-40 per cent, making the farm less vulnerable to fluctuating energy prices, while reducing GHG emissions. Livestock emits ammonia, a powerful GHG. Trees close to

livestock intercept part of these emissions through dry deposition on leaf and bark surfaces. Use of woodchip to produce bedding for livestock can further reduce GHG emissions. When compared with straw bedding, woodchip has a reduced rate of release of volatile nitrogen compounds and can have cost advantages over straw. Woodfuel harvested from existing woodland, shelter and shade trees or by creating new woodland will displace fossil fuels and reduce the carbon footprint and energy price vulnerability of the farm. In addition, management of existing woodland and the establishment of new woodland for timber can be an important element of increasing the diversity of farm income.

Contour planting of trees and hedges can reduce runoff of manure and fertiliser


Importantly, many of the measures to integrate trees into farming systems have a direct benefit at a farm level. But many are also public goods, reducing water treatment costs, helping to mitigate flooding, reducing energy use and lowering GHG emissions, while helping to address concerns of food security. Society must develop incentives or markets which can help to generate the sort of landscapes

For a copy of the report Combating climate change - a role for UK forests, visit www.forestry. gov.uk/forestry/ INFD-7Y4GN9

which make whole catchments well adapted and which reflect the delivery of public goods. The importance of woodland in managing surface water runoff is reflected in the River Basin Management Plans published this year, but trees could also be playing a much greater role in environmental stewardship, voluntary measures under the Campaign for the Farmed Environment, in supporting on-farm energy generation and in wider agricultural adaptation to climate change. If we are to see the ambitious expansion of forestry which many are now supporting, then rather than seeing trees and woodland as competing with agriculture, they should be seen as part of the solution to increasing agricultural productivity and creating resilient landscapes which deliver public goods. Mike Townsend FICFor is a senior adviser to The Woodland Trust.

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