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Integrating Trees Network (FWN37 Autumn 2021)

13 December 2021

Farmers and crofters across parts of Scotland have been sharing their experiences, warts and all, about tree planting as part of their businesses. Hearing direct from those who have taken the plunge in growing trees is the best way to find out how to go about it and all the things you need to think about in advance.

Sharing experiences and hearing from those who are doing it is all part of the ever growing Integrating Trees Network. This farmer or crofter-led initiative has now run eight virtual events from all over Scotland since March this year.

The initiative is being led by farmers and supported by Scottish Forestry and the Scottish Government, to help farmers, crofters and land managers find out more about tree planting.

At the heart of the initiative is hearing first hand from other farmers who have already planted trees and successfully integrated them on their farming business.

Farming Networks

The network has built up a strong network of farm woodland demonstration sites across Scotland.

Presently there are five farms in the demo network – Andrew Adamson of Messrs W Laird & Son, Netherurd Home Farm, Peeblesshire, the Imrie Family of Hillhead Farm, Torrance and Andrew and Debbie Duffus, Mains of Auchriachan, Tomintoul, Andrew Whiteford, Burnfoot and Ulzieside Farm, Sanquhar and The Barbour family, Mains of Fincastle, Pitlochry. Most are beef and sheep farms with one mixed unit.

The final Highland host farmer will be introduced soon.

Scottish Forestry’s forestry and farming development officer, Lyn White said;

The Integrating Trees Network is all about encouraging more trees to be planted, in the right place, for the right reason and to give guidance on how this can be practically achieved.

“Our fantastic farming hosts are willing to share their practical experiences, discuss their objectives, challenges and benefits of their tree planting projects. They have undertaken a number of online seminars recently and from these a number of key practical messages have been developed for others thinking of planting trees.”

The practical messages were:

  • use well known contractors – not always the cheapest but being recommended by others shows they know their job;
  • environment – you have to work with what’s on the ground, don’t try and change it too much or work against it;
  • you can do the work yourself and you don’t need to rely on contractors. It can be a steep learning curve and there are challenges. It just takes time and planning, but there is support out there;
  • understand your reasons for wanting to plant trees on your land and your business priorities;
  • do your research: evaluate your land and monitor your farm to find out what areas are under performing for livestock but could still be suitable for planting trees;
  • make sure you consider whether planting trees will complement your existing farm enterprises;
  • treat your woodland as another crop, making sure you are managing it properly;
  • know where your drains are before you start;
  • involve the local community as much as possible in planning – that helps to defuse any potential issues;
  • ask whether having trees on the farm will help diversify the nature of the business to become more adaptable, and in the future will it provide much needed shelter;
  • create a habitat for wildlife: life’s pretty boring without wildlife!; and finally
  • look at the future benefits of protecting the next generation. It is often the case that the farming calendar does not allow business owners to plan too far ahead. Things pile up and opportunities are often missed. There is so much unpredictability in regards to price of output and inputs, weather, political and environmental shifts, subsidies etc. The grants are available now, there are targets to be met and so this a great opportunity to safeguard the future of the business.

After the first two farming events, there had been a number of questions and discussion around the practical aspects of integrating trees on farmland. A question time event was set up where we had two host farmers and Scottish Forestry staff on hand to answer queries on species/site choice, protection, and design, cultivation, and maintenance tasks.

Huge crofting interest

When the Integrating Trees Network was launched earlier this year there was a fantastic response from the crofting community.

Crofters were in touch expressing a keen interest in the developing network and wanted to know how they could be involved.

The interest was so great that it soon became clear that there should be events run purely for crofters.

There has now been two such events which have been called – Tea and Trees for Crofters.
The main aim of the online events were to promote an opportunity for informal discussion about tree planting on crofts. The aim was to offer a relaxed meeting where crofters could share their experiences of tree planting – warts and all.

That’s exactly what was achieved too. The discussions were great – full of folk sharing their experiences and challenges of tree planting, asking advice and even highlighting how the trees can provide benefits to bullocks and bees.

As the network has developed we have managed to share resources to help land managers take that next step to planting trees on their land. This can include putting crofters in touch with other organisations such as the Woodland Trust’s Croft Woodlands Project or farmers with Tweed Forum.

Scottish Forestry has also highlighted new simplified woodland creation guidance, small farm loan scheme, FAS funding to name but a few and most of all, having access to other farmers and crofters who can share their practical knowledge to those considering woodland creation on whatever scale.

These resources and more can all be found on the Integrating Trees Network website along with host farmer farm details and more key messages.

A recent video features Matthew Imrie, Hillhead Farm, Torrance, one of our host farmers discussing the decision to plant trees on his family farm and key considerations other farmers should be aware of.

Also on the website are links to our up and coming events, also keep an eye on @scotforestry and @FASScot twitter for new events.

Everyone is welcome to book onto these free virtual online events. This is a farmer and crofter-led network so please get in touch and let us know what topics you want us to discuss. Drop or an email.

This article has been published in the Autumn 2021 edition of the Farm Woodland News.  Download a copy to access all articles.  Subscribe to receive newly published editions via email by using the form here.

Beef cattle looking towards the camera over a stone wall with lush grassland pasture either side and a copse of trees in the background.

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