Branching out: what trees can do for farming – The Property Chronicle
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Branching out: what trees can do for farming

The Professor

As UK agriculture faces major funding changes, one important resource should not be overlooked in developing sustainable farming systems

Those who remember farming in the decades after the second world war, especially the 1970s, will know that the emphasis was very much on production. Arable farmers were encouraged and even incentivised to utilise every hectare (or acre, as it was then) of their land for production. Hedges and trees were often removed to increase the productive area. Over the years, with changes in farm support, those farmers have been encouraged to create field margins linked to support payments, but trees have still not been in focus. Farm woodland, where it still remains, is often undermanaged, acting as cover for game birds or shelter for the farmhouse. 

Looking forward, the new farm support systems will be based on producing public benefit in all its forms. Farmers will need to create plans for their total holding, showing clearly the public benefits they will bring in terms of food production, environmental enhancement and other social outcomes. The need to look at integrated approaches to land management to produce such public benefit – and also to respond to climate change – will highlight the value of trees.

So, what benefits do trees bring? They can significantly improve soil fertility and structure, for instance reducing the leaching of nutrients by capturing and recycling them. The root systems and associated ecosystems of trees can have major positive benefits, including the provision of windbreaks to combat soil erosion. Trees can also play an important role in carbon capture, helping the UK meet challenging government carbon targets. A crucial element in addressing the climate emergency is the creation of balanced, integrated farming systems that maximise economic and environmental benefits – including meeting carbon targets – as well as providing food.

Then there is the role of trees in water management. Our weather conditions have become more volatile, and these extreme dry and wet periods seem set to continue. Trees are important in helping combat this. They can slow the flow of water and contribute positively to flood resilience. Through their vast underground root systems and the organisms that inhabit them, they can also help improve water quality. For livestock, they provide shade. There are, in certain instances, opportunities for agro-forestry where grazing animals live in balance with the trees to their mutual benefit.

The Professor

About John Moverley

John Moverley

John graduated in Agriculture and was awarded the Wood Prize for best student in the subject and a College Scholarship. After holding a research fellowship and lectureship at Nottingham University, John’s subsequent career has spanned the public, private and charitable sectors with 20 years at chief executive level. John has held numerous regional and national posts and his last full time post was as Chief Executive of the Royal Agricultural Society of England. Current roles include chairman of the Amenity Forum, a Forestry & Woodlands Advisory Committee and Mercia Community Forest. He is a Fellow of the Royal Agricultural Societies and the Institute of Agricultural Engineers and holds honorary Fellowships at both the University of Central Lancashire and Myerscough College and his chair is at De Montfort University. In 2004, he was awarded the OBE for services to agriculture and education and has recently been elected President at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, for the 2018/19 academic year.

Articles by John Moverley

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