In this research network, seven farms and a research farm are being supported to design and implement silvopasture systems: planting trees within pasture fields used by livestock. Three designs are being tested with a mixture of cluster planting, regular spacing and shelterbelts being planted.
This farmer-led project was created as there has been limited research on the impact of silvopasture in the UK. With excitement about agroforestry on the rise, farmers are looking for clear evidence of a potential return on investment in order to justify the significant financial commitment to turn pasture over to silvopasture.
The farm enterprises are currently a mixture of dairy, beef, sheep and arable. Over 12 years, the farmers will monitor tree establishment and factors that may effect this (fencing, wildlife, livestock interactions and the use of decoy rubbing posts and 'sacrificial willow' to distract livestock from protected trees and shrubs).
Silvopasture is meant to bring the following benefits:
The field lab will work with multiple partners to conduct research across a range of topics, looking at environmental and animal behavioural metrics as well as certain practical management considerations.
The Woodland Trust worked with the farmers to design a planting system to suit their farm, and provided funding to cover the planting and tree protection. For information on planting designs please see “Three silvopasture designs to suit your farm”.
A fuller description of the trial design and the roles of the different stakeholders can be found in the reports and results section of the field lab page.
To really establish the benefits and impact of silvopasture over the 12-year period, a variety of tests will be taken. The wealth of quantifiable data that this field lab will offer will help researchers to better understand the impact of silvopasture, including different designs, on the wider farm system.
The tests will include:
Surveys in vegetation, soil organic carbon, and insect communities and how trees affect these metrics as they grow.
Looking at sward competition and rates of growth at different stages of tree canopy development
Biodiversity research looking at bats, birds and dung beetles and population as the agroforestry system matures.
Monitoring tree establishment rates and practicalities of looking after the trees – considering factors such as climate, competition, and stock eating the trees.
When the livestock have been introduced, various welfare assessments will also be undertaken.
Dr Carmen Segura-Quirante updated the group on the baseline soil sampling results which were taken between Dec 2020 and Feb 21:
· Different protocols and tests have been followed to determine physical (bulk density and texture fractions) and chemical (pH, % SOC and TN) soil properties
· Bulk density analysis (BD) and chemical analysis were carried out in North Wyke, and texture fractions were provided by an external laboratory from baseline soil subsamples processed at North Wyke
· Estimated time effort in working hours for the baseline soil study =2000 h. Lab team= 8 people
· Tests to check the presence/absence of inorganic C (IC) were based on acidified washing procedures of soil subsamples when pH > 6
· We assume Soil Total Carbon (IC + OC) = Soil Organic C as no evidence of IC was found (pH < 6 in most of the samples and no effervescence when higher pH)
· The composite sample approach is an accurate method to determine SOC at baseline level. In our case 1 composite sample= 6 samples from the same strata and per depth. To do the composite sample, we took a subsample of each individual sample to keep spare soil in our archives for the future.
· SOC and TN (%) were determined by standardized and recommended methods to assess changes in SOC (Carlo Erba elemental analyser)
· SOC stocks were calculated from SOC (%), BD (g/cm3) and soil depth (cm) for 0-10 cm and 10-30 cm soil depths
· Mean values (% SOC) in the topsoil (0-10 cm) were in the range of values reported in the UK for arable fields and grasslands
The individual results will be sent out to the farmers themselves shortly.
The next samples will be taken within 4 years of the initial samples by Rothamsted.
We have pending to pass the questionnaire about land use and management to them.
Rothamsted research visited the farms in February and March to undertake baseline sampling and will monitor the change of this over the next 12 years to understand whether the integration of trees improves soil organic carbon sequestration and soil structure.
Advisors from the Woodland Trust and FWAG visited each farm in autumn 2020 to develop tree planting designs unique to the needs of each farmer. The trees (funded by the Woodland Trust) were planted at the farms throughout February, with some farms involving dozens of local volunteers in the planting.
Three planting designs will be used overall - shelterbelts, regular spaced strips and open-grazed clustered wood pasture. The farms will use one or more of these designs across their fields. The benefits and drawbacks of each design are detailed here.
For example, regular spaced strips allow machinery access to alleys for cutting silage if farmers wish to manage this as productive grassland throughout the year. However, the prioritisation of grass in this design means the least biodiversity benefits are expected of all three designs.
10th September 2020
Early summer 2022
Early summer 2023
Early summer 2024
Early summer 2025
Jon Haines joins the Farming and Land Use team as an Agroforestry Advisor, where he will help individual members with agroforestry technical, marketing, supply chain and networking queries. He brings knowledge and experience of both arboriculture and agriculture. His previous role saw him travel to implement and support farmer projects with herb, spice and tea farmers around the world. He has also helped set up a pioneering community aquaculture project off the coast of St Davids, Pembrokeshire.
West Elmett Farm
Hill and Coombe Dairy
Organic Research Centre