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Trees can be a win-win for wildlife and food production

More trees in the countryside doesn’t have to mean a choice between forest and farmland. In field margins and boundaries, in unproductive corners and near watercourses, trees can bring a multitude of benefits – and there’s no need to take valuable land out of food production. One Wiltshire farmer shares his experience.

For Ben Butler, director of the 1,000-acre Manor Farm in Avebury, Wiltshire, balancing a profitable working farm while doing his bit for wildlife and conservation is “hugely important”.

“Should we be producing food or giving up farmland to wildlife?” he asks. “I think you can do both. We have been producing food on a good scale… but you don’t have to farm right up to the fence line. There is a place for wildlife.”

The farm, which has been in the Butler family since 1937, is a mix of around 750 acres of arable and 250 acres of grassland.

They raise about 100 head of beef cattle, graze around 140 ewe lambs and, on the arable side, rotate wheat, winter barley, spring barley, oilseed rape and some spring beans and spring linseed.

The Butler family started to get serious about conservation and stewardship in about 2000, but while the challenge is one they have embraced, there has been an added complication.

Manor Farm is on a World Heritage Site, a short distance from the famous Avebury stone circle, meaning it’s a hugely popular tourist attraction and “very challenging to run a business”.

“We receive 350,000 visitors a year,” said Ben. “Tourists are here 365 days a year and we have footpaths in nearly every field on the farm. This is just a normal village so it’s a quite a lot of pressure.”

Nonetheless, the family were keen to do their bit for wildlife and conservation, and looked for areas on the farm where they could make a difference without impacting productivity.

As with much of the British countryside, Manor Farm had lost significant hedgerow acreage in the 20th century, and Ben wanted to return it to its former state.

Since the Second World War, it is estimated that as much as 50% of UK hedgerows have been lost.

Not only are hedgerows iconic features in the British landscape but they act as vital wildlife corridors, linking habitats and enabling species to move from place to place. They provide sites for shelter and nesting, and food for insects, birds, bats and small mammals.

“Talking to the older generations, they recall boundaries of fields being hedged,” Ben said. “We felt it would be nice to put it back.”

Ben applied for the Woodland Trust’s MOREhedges scheme in the spring of 2021, with 250m of native hedgerow trees delivered and planted last Christmas, including mix of blackthorn, crab apple, dogwood, dog rose, field maple and hazel interspersed with 50 common oak trees.

“The Woodland Trust is well respected, and I was happy with the stock I was getting,” he said. “The plants had been properly spiralled, caned and tree sheltered and I was confident in the longevity and traceability and what was going to be planted.

“I couldn’t fault any of the materials, plants or the process. I wouldn’t have a second thought about going back to the Woodland Trust.”

The family’s nature-friendly farming practices had already seen an increase in birds, flora and fauna – and the new planting will further enhance this by providing shelter and corridors for wildlife.

“Farmers in the area worked out that birds, bees, hedgehogs don’t know the boundaries of your farm, so you have to do it on a landscape scale and work together,” said Ben.

“We do extensive feeding of farmland birds and try to link up margins and corridors. Wildlife is a benefit to what we do. It’s good for the image of the industry and it’s good for the environment.”

If, like Ben, you’re looking to create shelter and enhance biodiversity on your farm, the Woodland Trust, with generous funding from Lloyds Bank, offers the advice and support you need to plant with confidence. Their flagship planting schemes, MOREwoods and MOREhedges, have already helped UK landowners to plant well over 3,000 hectares of new native woodland and 300km of hedgerow. Find out how you could benefit.

MOREwoods

The Trust’s MOREwoods scheme is ideal for anyone planting over half a hectare of woodland. Whether you want to plant a shelterbelt or harvest your own woodfuel, the Trust can provide tailored advice and support, including:

  • A dedicated project officer who’ll help guide your application from start to finish
  • Help to design your woodland and select the most appropriate species mix
  • Delivery of your trees and plant protection to suit you
  • Up to 75% of the costs subsidised if you plant the trees yourself. If you would like a contractor to plant the trees and provide a weeding service for the first two years, 60% of the costs will be funded (this option is available in England, Wales & Northern Ireland to anyone planting over one hectare).

MOREhedges

Alternatively, if you are looking to plant over 100m of hedgerow, the Trust’s MOREhedges scheme could provide:

  • A standard hedgerow mix of native shrub species such as hawthorn, blackthorn, crab apple, dogwood, dog rose, elder, field maple
  • Your choice of species of full height trees, to be interspersed in the row
  • Appropriate protection, including spirals, canes, tubes and stakes
  • Funding of up to 75% of the cost of the project.

No obligation advice and support is available even if you decide not to plant.

Apply now to receive your trees this planting season.

MOREwoods and MOREhedges are funded by Lloyds Bank to support sustainable farming.

 

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