Can tree planting on livestock farms lead to a net increase in productivity and profit? (Woodland Trust)

Chair:John Tucker (Woodland Trust)

Hear from a vet, farmer and an academic how trees can help support sustainable livestock farming and explore whether you feel this is credible, what questions remain to be answered and what the barriers to implementation are.

Session summary

Three different perspectives on trees and livestock were presented by the speakers, with farmer Tim Downes describing his new agroforestry system which integrates fodder and medicinal trees within his dairy system, vet Emily Gascoigne outlining the main benefits of trees for ruminant health and welfare, and researcher Andy Smith introducing a landscape-scale project that will investigate the role of trees in improving ecosystem resilience. Tim has a strong interest in how the newly planted trees can provide health benefits for his dairy cows, and will work with researchers to measure impacts on milk production and herd health, as well as identifying browsing preference of individual cattle for specific tree species. Following concerns about how the tree planting would fit within current restrictions on tree densities under the Basic Payment Scheme (specified as 100 trees/ha), Tim was told by Defra officials that as long as grazing can carry on as before, the land would still be eligible for BPS. Emily focused on three ways that good tree planting can improve ruminant health and welfare and so overall productivity: by reducing exposure for newly born lambs and therefore reducing the number affected by hypothermia; by providing shelter for newly shorn lactating ewes and so reducing mastitis; and to improve land drainage and ground conditions, thus reducing infectious lameness. Andy Smith from Bangor University outlined the new MultiLand project that will consider various elements of tree-livestock-soil interactions including impacts on greenhouse gas emissions, hydrology and livestock productivity. Discussions centred on species selection of trees for fodder and self-medication (there is anecdotal evidence that walnut trees keep flies away), the role of trees to reduce soil erosion, and the importance of on-going tree management to make the most of the woody component on the farm.

Key conclusions

Andy Smith

The discussion that followed the presentations brought out the following points:

  • The occasional tree in the field may increase diseases as livestock gather in high numbers – therefore planting many trees is recommended.
  • It is essential to develop tree management plans into the future so that the tree component can be a productive part of the system e.g. ORC’s project on managing hedges for woodfuel production see

Action points

  • Andy Smith of Bangor University is looking for examples of tree-livestock-soil interactions and is keen to hear from farmers in Wales that would be interested in being part of the project
  • Clarify Defra guidance and restrictions on tree densities and eligibility for BPS.

Individual speaker presentations and abstracts

Emily Gascoigne (Synergy Farm Health): Flocks and foliage (1.91mb pdf file)

Key drivers of sheep flock profitability include number of lambs reared per ewe to the ram, minimising losses and optimising the speed and efficiency with which those lambs can be finished. The talk will consider some key threats to this production and the role of trees when integrated into livestock farming. Emphasis will be placed on the effects of trees on drainage, changes of conditions underfoot and provision of shelter and therefore the potential consequences for production limiting threats such as neonatal lamb mortality, infectious lameness, mastitis and liver fluke. These challenges can compromise the absolute numbers and efficiency of lambs produced compromising profitability, health, welfare, sustainability and even future flock performance. The costs of these diseases, and the longer term threats posed, such as that of flukicide resistance, will be considered for on- going sheep and beef production.

Tim Downes (Organic dairy farmer): Trees provide fodder and boost production (1.84mb pdf file)

Tim Downes is an organic dairy farmer based in Shropshire, who has benefitted from the incorporation of trees on his land for some time. His dairy business has 280 spring calving cows and he sells his milk through the Organic Milk Suppliers Co-Operative (OMSCO) and producers milk for the National Organic Program US antibiotic free market. Initially Tim introduced trees on to his land to aid with shelter, soil conditions and water management; and to provide a source of wood fuel. He now believes there are significant benefits to be had in terms of trees providing nutritional and medicinal fodder for his herd. Working in partnership with Harper Adams University and the Woodland Trust he is undertaking a trial to monitor the benefits of cows browsing trees in situ. Benefits can come through three routes; either directly influencing productivity through protein content, through secondary metabolites acting as anti-parasitics and altering digestive processes, or through improved trace element provision.

Andy Smith (Bangor University): Enhancing agricultural productivity and ecosystem service resilience in multifunctional landscapes (2.03mb pdf file)

Climate change is predicted to increase the occurrence of extreme weather events throughout the UK. Simultaneously the population of the World is expected to grow from 7.2 billion to 9.6 billion by 2050. Such rapid changes to climate, increases in population, urbanisation and environmental degradation represent an unprecedented challenge to food and agricultural systems. Natural resources are necessary to support agriculture and food production, yet research has identified that ecosystem services are being diminished due to loss of ecological complexity in agro-ecosystems. Intensively managed agricultural systems, such as many livestock farms, can become less resilient to extreme events, such as drought or floods, as a result of the erosion of ecosystem functioning. In contrast, the presence of hedgerows and trees in pasture can increase livestock productivity through the provision of shelter, whilst creating a multifunctional landscape where synergies in agricultural or ecological niches may be exploited to sustainably intensify farming practices. Our research aims to identify and promote sustainable agricultural practices and exploit synergies in tree-livestock-soil interactions to increase agricultural productivity and resilience to climate change.


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