Higher quality eggs, more biodiversity and better soil are three areas highlighted by free range producer David Brass as part of a new report calling upon the Government to promote agroforestry.
Mr Brass, who runs the Lakes Free Range Egg Company, has been a keen proponent of agroforestry for a number of years and believes there have been a range of benefits.
“At first, we were planting trees simply to encourage our hens to range, having recognised their inclination towards sheltered areas.
“But the benefits went far beyond that original motive and, as well as the undeniable improvements to the hens’ welfare, we’ve seen better soil water retention, more biodiversity and crucially a higher quality product.”
The free range case study is one of a number put forward in a Woodland Trust/Soil Association report, which has backing from a range of stakeholders including the Country Land and Business Association, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Sainsbury’s and Cranfield University.
It recommends the Government unlocks the opportunities of agroforestry through:
• Providing a clear, practical definition of agroforestry to give clarity to land managers, practitioners and policy makers
• Deliver public goods – making on-farm tree planting and management central to the UK’s new environment land management scheme, rewarding the public goods delivered by agroforestry such as carbon sequestration, flood remediation, soil organic matter improvement, biodiversity and animal welfare
• Establishing major agroforestry trials during the EU withdrawal transition period to test support mechanisms
• Training a new generation of advisors that break the current divide between forestry and agricultural advice and expertise
• Integrated policy making across Whitehall departments
• Addressing tenancy issues making it worthwhile for tenants to invest
• Placing trees in the Agriculture Bill to support agroforestry.
The Woodland Trust has for a number of years argued that well-designed tree planting encourages better use of the range by providing cover, shelter and shade.
In its 2014 report, “The role of trees in free range poultry farming,” it said integrating trees into free range poultry farming encourages ranging and other natural behaviours in flocks, leading to improvements in animal health and welfare and production.
Karen Campbell, Glenrath Farms operations director, said in that study that, “encouraging good ranging behaviour is important not just for welfare of the hens but also for production. We believe that tree planting on our ranges helps us to meet the consumer demand for high quality free range eggs, while also increasing the efficiency of production.”