The first Agroforestry Show of any size in the UK, organised by the Woodland Trust and the Soil Association, was held at Eastbrook Farm, Wiltshire, in September. Forestry Journal attended on day one, touring the talks and stands to learn what was on offer.

OPENING on the hottest day of September, the two-day Agroforestry Show is the UK’s first major agroforestry event, taking place on Eastbrook Farm in Wiltshire.

The farm, managed by Helen Browning OBE, Soil Association chief executive and an organic (regenerative) farmer, counts beef and dairy herds, pigs, arable crops (cereals) and small-scale horticulture within its land-use mix, adopting an agroforestry system seven years ago.

With the policy environment becoming more supportive, a growing body of evidence suggests agroforestry, combining trees with livestock or crops, can help both arable and pastoral farms to protect livestock, crops, soils, rivers, biodiversity and air quality, boosting resilience in a changing climate.

Forestry Journal: The farm walk, led by Helen Browning, is a chance to see what regenerative agroforestry looks like on the ground.The farm walk, led by Helen Browning, is a chance to see what regenerative agroforestry looks like on the ground. (Image: FJ/CL)

The show brings together forestry (and other) exhibitors and 123 speakers (farmers, foresters, researchers, environmentalists, and policy-makers). Through a range of talks, workshops and practical demonstrations, questions will be answered and insights shared on how farm businesses can benefit from trees, helping farmers and foresters to facilitate the expansion of agroforestry as a key climate, nature and farming solution across the UK.

Parked between a tree shelter display and a newly planted wood pasture roundel (copse), a double-tipped blue-and-white striped ‘Big Top’ tent adds a jaunty air. Inside it is rammed with delegates listening intently to a talk on ‘UK government support for agroforestry’, where ‘SFS (Sustainable Farming Scheme) – 10 per cent tree cover’ (specifically for Wales) is highlighted on the screen.

It is the same for all the talks: ‘Biomass Agroforestry’ (Forestry Commission tent); ‘The case for farm-scale forestry’ (Tilhill tent); ‘Sheep silvopasture: seeing the wool from the trees’ (Farmers Weekly tent). 

Among the 40 exhibitor stands is Wessex Woodland Management. MD Richard Baker says forester Alan Hunt planted a lot of trees on this site a few years ago and he has enjoyed seeing how they have grown.

Forestry Journal: Helen Browning tells the story behind ‘Withy Pump Grazed Paddocks’.Helen Browning tells the story behind ‘Withy Pump Grazed Paddocks’. (Image: FJ/CL)

Frank P Matthews (Worcestershire) supplied fruit trees to the UK’s first silvoarable agroforester Stephen Briggs. Director Stephanie James is advocating for time, energy and money to be put into UK nurseries. She says: “There are not many fruit tree nurseries left in the UK. From supplying apple trees for juicing and cider projects, in the last year we have seen increasing diversity with agroforestry projects planting plums and cherries, or nuts for drying and processing. The varieties, rootstocks and sizes available are phenomenal. There is a bespoke option for everyone.”

In the demonstration Area, Wood-Mizer’s general manager Dave Biggs saws large butts of timber.

At exhibitor Alvan Blanch, an interested party looks into the depths of a drying machine filled with cobnuts.

At its stand, Confor reveals it is working with the Woodland Trust at a policy programme and lobbying level. With the Soil Association it will produce case studies on ‘farm business and afforestation’, illustrating what differing types of forestry mean within a productive farm landscape.

Anthony Geddes, outgoing national manager for Wales, says: “Most land for future tree planting is within farm control. Our members will be offering planning advice or providing expertise for planting, ground preparation and more, be it agroforestry sparsely planted, or agroforestry in dense areas of productive woodland or productive shelterbelts. We need a clear vision of what sustainable on-farm forestry looks like.”

Forestry Journal: Confor’s outgoing national manager for Wales, Anthony Geddes.Confor’s outgoing national manager for Wales, Anthony Geddes. (Image: FJ/CL)

Biomass Connect, a government-sponsored knowledge-exchange programme, promotes UK biomass crops. Leaflets detail trees, herbaceous plants and grasses that could help farm economics and their (short-term) carbon footprint. Species include eucalyptus, common alder, poplar, black locust, hemp, reed canary grass, miscanthus, pawlonia and willow. Under the Sustainable Farming Initiative (SFI), biomass crops attract subsidy in the same way as arable management.

Close to tree shelter specialists Vigilis and Slimane, with the speaker tents emptying for lunch, delegates are approached for comment. 

This morning, Kirsten Johnson, woodland officer for Great Northumberland Forest, listened to ‘Profitable Silvopasture’ (combining livestock with coppice) and ‘Biomass Agroforestry’, where investigations are considering whether biochar could be used in concrete (up to five per cent). She says: “I am loving this show.” This afternoon she will hear of ‘Farmer-led agroforestry design’ and ‘Trees for air quality and farm business’.

Ben Norwood works for the Forest for Cornwall, a council initiative to increase tree cover across the county. He says: “‘The case for farm-scale forestry’ covered bringing current farm woodlands back into management. We heard from the Land Workers Alliance, which is bridging the gap between farming and forestry.”

Forestry Journal: A crowd of walkers follows Helen Browning.A crowd of walkers follows Helen Browning. (Image: FJ/CL)

Goodwood Estate’s forester Darren Norris and sustainability project manager Sophia Llewelyn stand in the shade. In ‘Sheep silvopasture: seeing the wool for the trees’ Sophia heard from a vet who outlined how access to the cobalt in willow leaves helps sheep maintain nutrient levels.

Goodwood’s agroforestry project is in the very early stages. An organic arable field has been planted with strips of fruit trees and a line of timber trees. Darren says: “The fruit trees (apples, pears, plums, damsons, and walnut) are beginning to bear fruit. We are now successfully growing almonds, also beginning to bear fruit. We are keen on increasing our hedgerow management, using it for fodder and for food for ourselves, and growing timber in between.”

Led by Helen Browning, the afternoon’s farm walk is a chance to see regenerative agroforestry in practice. Our first stop is a 25–30-year-old wood (with livestock shelter and water trough), where 10 saddleback breeding sows, part of a reduced herd within in the farm’s arable rotation, enjoy the shade. Helen says: “Pigs are happy among trees, as are most livestock, especially when it is hot or wet. We feed them 2.5 kilos a day and move them every few days. They like to scratch, debarking if left in one place for too long.”

Forestry Journal: Goodwood Estate’s forester Darren Norris and sustainability project manager Sophia Llewelyn stand in the shade.Goodwood Estate’s forester Darren Norris and sustainability project manager Sophia Llewelyn stand in the shade. (Image: FJ/CL)

Our first field, ‘Withy Pump Grazed Woodland’, designed by the Woodland Trust and funded by the Woodland Creation Grant, is full of young (P2018) native trees growing in guards. Waist-high spear thistle has been left, “because we are trying to do this as cheaply and as effectively as possible.” In 10–15 years’ time, the trees will form a ‘living barn’ where cattle can find browse and shelter. Similar blocks can be found around the farm.

At the field edge, young unguarded willow trees, three times the size of their field mates, have grown this way as the result of an ‘accidental woodchip experiment’.

“Establishing woodlands organically, we can’t use chemicals. Instead, we use mulches and woodchip. We pollarded 80 willows alongside the stream to let in more light, chipped the willow and laid it around the trees (5 cm depth) establishing in this field.

“Accidentally, these received a 75 cm layer. A year on, they were twice as big as the others. Ben (Raskin) got very excited about woodchip, not just for mulching to keep the weeds down, but also for moisture retention, soil temperature modulation and the mycorrhizal networks. We now use woodchip everywhere.”

A second field, 50 acres in size, ‘Withy Pump Grazed Paddocks’, highlights silvoarable alley cropping. “The challenge when planting trees is anticipating the market: what commercial crops people will buy in 15–20 years’ time, or 70 years for timber.” By incorporating trees, Helen feels it is easier to manage the land for the grassland and the livestock, which struggle in hot summer temperatures. “Holistically, it can work well.”

The trees planted include a primary crop of perry pears (under contract, machine harvested), a secondary crop of shrub sea buckthorn and three rows of timber trees. Each row is planted 27 metres apart (allowing easy machinery access). There are approximately 20 alleys, each 24 metres wide, each a hectare in total. These paddocks or pasture strips are mob-grazed on rotation (moved every day or so) by 100 ‘dairy youngstock’ (heifers calving next spring). Roping off areas with electric fencing makes it easier to move the cattle around.

A long, thin riparian strip (and ride) shields the stream from cattle. Deer guards protect the trees. “When I took on this farm, we had a lovely stream, but this field was a featureless place. As soon as we planted trees, it felt different. Designing a landscape, thinking of the farm resources and what could go where felt creative in a way farming had not felt before.”

Two years ago, another walker, David Wolfe, organised an ‘Agroforestry Open Farm Weekend’.

Starting with six, now over 40 farms participate. His own 30-year-old agroforestry demonstration farm, Wakelyns in Suffolk, has provided Helen Browning with inspiration over the years.

For additional forage and to reduce methane emissions towards net zero, stakes of pollarded willow have been stuck in the ground (to see if they grow) alongside P2020 poplar (woodchip 15c m) in a forage block. Research indicates that willow can reduce cattle’s methane emissions.

Unfenced and unguarded, deer pressure and cattle break-ins have hindered establishment.

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Across the field, a double-row hedge (with hedge and fruit trees planted every 20 metres), planted just before last summer’s drought, shows no sign of drying out. “We put on a foot of woodchip. The six-month-old chip (a mix of home-grown and untreated chip from landscape gardeners) helps retain moisture. We cannot go around watering trees.”

Passing sweet-smelling compost piles in the horticultural demonstration field, the walk ends in an orchard, alleys left between long and curving rows of almonds (P2016/2017) under-planted with raspberries. The almonds, planted with climate change in mind, bore nuts for the first time this year. Helen says: “The fat and protein content of nuts per acre when compared to livestock is in a different league.”  

This orchard was once a nine-acre field grazed by sheep. It now hosts 30 different tree and shrub species, including five varieties of berry-bearing shrub sea buckthorn. Three people now earn part of their living here and visitors come to learn about organic horticulture and growing trees.

Back a the exhibitor area, the FC’s agroforestry advisor James Ramskir-Gardiner feels there will be much interest when the agroforestry schemes launch in 2024. Earlier, he was offering bespoke advice to farmers in the ‘Agroforestry Design Clinic’. Some farms focused on productivity, others on animal welfare or biodiversity. He says: “Traditional upland livestock farmers seem as interested as small-scale regenerative horticulturalists and agricultural workers.”

Forestry Journal: Geoff Newman, senior specialist in agroforestry and traditional orchards, is part of Natural England’s 18-month-old Tree Team; with FC agroforestry advisor James Ramskir-Gardiner.Geoff Newman, senior specialist in agroforestry and traditional orchards, is part of Natural England’s 18-month-old Tree Team; with FC agroforestry advisor James Ramskir-Gardiner. (Image: FJ/CL)

Geoff Newman, senior specialist in agroforestry and traditional orchards, is part of Natural England’s 18-month-old tree team. “The show is drawing people together,” he says. “We are all trying to learn from each other. This morning I chaired ‘British fruit growing for agroforestry’. It was all about the different scales.” He found small-scale agroforester Nathan Richards interesting, because selling little bits of fruit is part of his business model.

Sacks of broadleaves and images of conifer plantings adorn the Penfolds Woodland Management stand. Operations Manager John Igglesden has had lots of interest from farmers wanting to plant up some land.

Forestry Journal: In the demonstration area, Wood-Mizer’s general manager Dave Biggs saws large butts of timber.In the demonstration area, Wood-Mizer’s general manager Dave Biggs saws large butts of timber. (Image: FJ/CL)

Towards the exit, Alba Nurseries offers delegates free hazel whips, urging ‘Start your agroforestry today’. Ben Raskin, the Soil Association’s head of agroforestry, and Helen Cheshire, the Woodland Trust’s leading farm advocate, are enjoying the shade of a field tree. When considering what type of event to run, they felt a ‘show’ would allow delegates to discover agroforestry and the collective benefits, products and services that trees provide. Ben says: “Demonstrations and walks allow people to ask practical questions. Selling over 1,000 tickets shows that there is real interest from farmers and foresters in making this happen.”

Helen adds: “We have to say how we do this, because with climate change, time is running out. From a forestry point of view, these are additional trees on land that will not become forestry, because it still needs to produce food. The only way to do that is if trees are part of it.”