Policy Briefing: Agroforestry

Agroforestry has the potential to provide a range of nature, climate and on-farm benefits but careful consideration is needed to avoid unintended adverse outcomes.

A lone male House Sparrow hidden within grass.
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Agroforestry is increasingly discussed as one of a range of strategies for expanding tree cover on agricultural land across the UK to help attain national tree planting targets while mitigating concerns surrounding reduced food production. The integration of trees into farmed landscapes has the potential to deliver a range of nature and climate benefits, along with on-farm benefits for landowners. However, the uptake of agroforestry must be approached with appropriate planning and support to ensure expansion of tree cover delivers biodiversity, climate adaptation and mitigation, and economic benefits whilst avoiding damaging impacts which could result from inappropriate planting.

The RSPB strongly advocates 'right tree, right place' and encourages planting native species and in areas that enhance or connect existing woodland. Care should be taken to avoid planting on peat soils and valuable open habitat which may lead to adverse outcomes for carbon storage and biodiversity. Linear agroforestry practices, such as hedgerows, riparian buffers, and shelterbelts have been more widely studied and can be prioritised as the more immediate strategies for increasing farmland tree cover while also providing public and private goods. However, there are currently greater challenges associated with the uptake of silvopastoral and silvoarable systems due to uncertainty around markets for products produced, more intensive management inputs needed, and a current lack of evidence supporting the nature benefits and economic viability of some of these systems. Early adopters and on-farm trials such as our work at Hope Farm will continue to provide insight into the potential role of these agroforestry practices within a UK context.

Our policy recommendations

  1. Supportive schemes which include in-person advice, flexibility in planting design to accommodate site-specific factors, appropriate monitoring and evaluation and long-term commitments.
  2. Support local supply chains and strengthen markets for products produced in agroforestry systems (e.g. advertising nut crops as a viable source of protein and fat in consumer diets) to help reduce the perceived and real risk of diversifying farm income through uptake of tree crops.
  3. Further research and testing to ensure that the expansion of agroforestry in the UK delivers real climate and nature benefits.

Agroforestry and nature

Agroforestry can enhance biodiversity through increasing plant diversity, structural complexity, connectivity and provision of habitat. Effects on biodiversity will be largely dependent on species choice, management practices and location of planting. Native planting stock support a wider range of native species, contributing to biodiversity conservation aims and possibly supporting greater biodiversity-dependent benefits (e.g. greater diversity and resilience of pollination and pest-regulation communities). For climate adaptation it is important that species selected now will still be able to thrive in the future predicted climate.

Access to advice, training and support of peer-to-peer knowledge exchange to promote appropriate planting will be essential, as well as supportive schemes across the four nations to make agroforestry economically viable. Partnerships should be supported between scientists and landowners to encourage ongoing monitoring of on-farm climate and nature impacts of agroforestry adoption, feeding back into the evidence base for appropriate planting strategies. Efforts to support local supply chains and strengthen markets for products produced can help reduce the perceived and real risk of diversifying farm income through uptake of tree crops.

Download Agroforestry policy briefing

Download Agroforestry and nature position paper

Further Reading
  1. Woodland Trust - Agroforestry benefits nature, climate and farming
  2. Soil Association - What is agroforestry?
  3. Land Workers' Alliance - New Report: The promise of agroforestry


Ro Osborne

Policy Assistant – Farming, climate and land use


Last Updated: Thursday 11 August 2022

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