Extreme weather events, including snow and flooding, have added to the challenges and heartache of farmers and landowners throughout the country. While there’s no easy remedy for the recent snowfall, the Woodland Trust is encouraging farmers to consider the benefits of a natural ally.
The Trust cites compelling reasons for landowners to plant trees, including their ability to provide shelter for livestock and crops, and help combat flooding. With free advice, site visits and guidance on sources of funding, the charity is making it easy for landowners to experience the many benefits of woodland.
Gregor Fulton, operations manager with the Woodland Trust, said: “While we certainly can’t control the elements, we can help to lessen their effect. Trees and woods thoughtfully integrated into farms have an important role to play. Planting native trees, or allowing them to develop in hedgerows, provides winter shelter and summer shade important for livestock welfare and productivity.”
All livestock are vulnerable to extremes of temperature, which affects feed intake, reproductive performance and susceptibility to disease. Trees provide vital shelter from wind and rain during the winter months, increasing lamb survival rates. Conversely, planting native trees is a natural and cost-effective way to provide shade in summer. Outdoor pigs can suffer from sunburn; milk yield of dairy cattle can be affected; while heat-stressed hens lay smaller eggs.
According to research, trees planted in the right place can also make farms more resilient to flooding. Their leaves catch water, while their roots help water infiltrate deep down into the soil. They also help reduce soil erosion and nutrient loss. More than 2 million tonnes of topsoil are eroded annually in the UK, resulting in the costly loss of resources such as seeds and fertilisers. Through strategic tree planting, the damaging effect of flooding to farmland can be significantly reduced and surface water infiltration increased by up to 60 times after just three years.
Mr Fulton continued: “Shelterbelts needn’t take up a vast amount of space; just three or four rows of trees can be very effective. And hard-to-work corners – unsuitable for grazing and often left unused – are ideal places for new planting. Trees are certainly an investment and their benefits can be felt within a relatively short period of time.
“Many landowners will be eligible for grant-aid from Forest Service’s Woodland Grant Scheme. Those who don’t qualify for government funding can apply for support from the Woodland Trust. In either case, we’ll offer straightforward advice and will point you in the right direction.”