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Case study: Agroforestry on a livestock farm

Rows and rows of newly planted trees as part of a restoration project in the grounds at Killerton, Devon
Agroforestry is agriculture incorporating the cultivation of trees | © National Trust Images / Fi Hailstone

Cannerheugh is a 350-acre upland farm in Cumbria where agroforestry became an ideal land management approach that provided the farm with windbreaks to prevent soil erosion and shelter for livestock. Learn more from farmer Nic Renison about her experiences.

Working at Cannerheugh Farm

Nic and Paul Renison farm at Cannerheugh Farm on the edge of the Pennines overlooking the Eden Valley and the Lake District. Cannerheugh is a 350-acre upland farm with a mix of unimproved and improved pasture susceptible to the Helm Wind - a furious easterly wind and the only named wind in the UK. Agroforestry was an ideal land management approach that would provide their farm with windbreaks to prevent soil erosion and shelter for their livestock.

Nic says: 'We moved to the farm in 2012 and our need for smaller fields and shelter led us to work with the Woodland Trust and some stewardship schemes. Planting started in 2014 and we have since planted over 2km of hedges (12,000 trees) and also riparian corridors and pockets of woodland around the main grazing block. On the fell ground, we have planted a 6ha block to protect a water course from erosion. We have used a mixture of species, all native, such as Oaks, Aspen, Willow, Blackthorn, Field Maple, Wild Rose, Hawthorn, Hazel, Bird Cherry, Scots Pine and Rowan.'

The benefits of agroforestry

'The benefits increase as the years go on and our hedges are now nearly seven years old, providing much needed windbreaks and also shade from the sun. But this is only part of the story - bird life, insect life and general job satisfaction make this one of our best investments yet.

'We combine our tree and hedge planting with mob grazing, which has created better grass growth and improved diversity, seen through the increase of clover which is beneficial to the sward by fixing nitrogen into the soil.

'Ultimately, making space for woodland has helped us to make the farm more profitable. We have a reduced need for inputs and reduced lamb loss as our trees and hedges provide much needed shelter. Six years ago, we stopped using fertiliser, sprays and ivermectin. This has led to a continual improvement in biodiversity and soil health, which we measure by earthworm activity and dung beetle populations – all good indicators of soil health.'

This is a case study linked to the Climate and Land Summit hosted by the National Trust at the Wimpole Estate, in Cambridgeshire, on October 12, 2021, before the UN's annual climate conference COP26 in Cornwall in November that year.

Attendees at the summit represented some of England’s largest landowners and managers, and signed up to six guiding principles to commit to collectively working towards the nation’s net zero aims and pressing needs to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. To read the text of the Compact click here.

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