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Creating a buzz with nature-friendly farming

I’m not quite sure what the collective noun is for a group of farmers. A field? A crop? Perhaps a bale? But after being at the Oxford Real Farming Conference last week, I’m beginning to think it should be a buzz.

That’s because there was a real buzz and a vibrancy to the two day event, now in its ninth year and rapidly growing in popularity. The passionate gathering of the UK's sustainable and organic food and farming movements offered a practical mix of on-farm advice, showcased new techniques for best practice in agro-ecological farming, as well as broader discussions on what needs to change post-Brexit.

Government incentives

We were greatly encouraged by Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s comments to the conference that Government needs to introduce more incentives to help farmers plant more trees, and we continue to strive for viable agroforestry systems to become part of the mainstream farm landscape. We’re looking forward to hearing more details on how they plan to do this when the 25 year plan for the environment is launched imminently.

Trees should be a vital component of a farmer’s toolkit. They plough nutrients into the soil, improving stability and preventing erosion, improve water quality, provide life-saving shelter or browsing for livestock, shield arable crops and deliver an additional crop or source of fuel. And when it comes to carbon sequestration they are – as the joke goes – outstanding in their field.  

Artist Rebecca Roberts neatly summed up our seminar on the benefits of trees to livestock in this brilliant illustration (Photo: Dee Smith)
Artist Rebecca Roberts neatly summed up our seminar on the benefits of trees to livestock in this brilliant illustration (Photo: Dee Smith)

We took part in a number of sessions promoting the benefits of trees on farms with our enthusiastic ambassadors David Brass, who has planted more than 40,000 trees to benefit his poultry business, and Stephen Briggs, who introduced alley cropping on his Cambridgeshire arable farm and saw a dramatic increase in productivity.

Standing room only

Along with our senior farming adviser, Helen Chesshire, and Dr Andy Smith, who is leading research at Bangor University on the impact of trees on the productivity of sheep, they spoke to packed standing room only seminars. They explained that rather than seeing planting trees as a barrier to getting the basic farm payment, the benefits – both practical and financial – can in fact outweigh that loss.

We were proud to support the launch of the Nature Friendly Farming Network, a group of farmers who want to champion farming that is sustainable and good for nature. The network intends to secure better policies for food and farming and demonstrate that farming and nature can – and must – go hand in hand.

We hosted the network on our stand. Their ethos fits well with our own. Like us, they believe agriculture needs to be profitable and sustainable and farmers should receive adequate payments for undertaking environmental and nature-friendly activities.

Trees must be an integral part of a sustainable land use policy. They look good but more than that, they do good. If you’d like to find out more about planting trees on your farm, click here and then contact plant@woodlandtrust.org.uk and we’ll put you in touch with one of our advisers who can offer guidance about our subsidised planting schemes.

Make a difference

Plant trees

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