IF YOU are a farmer wondering if tree planting is right for your business, then it’s most likely you would ask around and speak to other farmers for their opinion. And that’s pretty much what the new Integrating Trees Network aims to do – get farmers speaking to farmers about tree planting.

More and more Scottish farmers are looking at tree planting as a means to strengthening their existing farm business. Supporters of agri-forestry argue that it offers a range of benefits, including providing shelter for livestock, improving productivity and diversifying income streams, creating habitats for wildlife and reducing each business’s carbon footprint.

To further that message, the Integrating Trees Network has been developed by the Scottish Government and Scottish Forestry to build a network of demonstration sites where farmers have successfully planted trees to help their businesses. These are now hosting events for all farmers and crofters across Scotland, bringing them together, along with forestry experts, to share their practical knowledge, experiences and advice about the processes, objectives, challenges and outcomes of planting trees.

Because of covid restrictions, the network hosted its first two demonstration events online through webinars. as Scottish Forestry's forestry and farming development officer, Lyn White, explained: “Obviously we couldn’t invite everyone to farms during the pandemic, but the webinars were hosted by two farming families in Peeblesshire and Lanarkshire.

“We had around 70 people linking in with us at each event and the feedback was really positive. Farmers and crofters were able to hear direct from the families who have gone through the whole planting process. It was useful for farmers to hear first-hand how they found the process – warts and all," said Ms White. "Farmers were particularly interested to hear about tree choice and appropriate sites, protection, design, cultivation and maintenance of farm woodlands."

The next free event will be on Wednesday June 23, hosted by a farming family in Tomintoul which has just joined the Integrating Trees Network.

Andrew and Debbie Duffus run a tenanted hill farm at Mains of Auchriachan in Tomintoul, along with their sons Sam, Ben and Max. The family's hill farm is rented from the Crown Estate and extends to 1,540 ha, sitting at 370m at home farm to 675m. Their herd is made up of 60 Simmental cross cows split 50:50 between spring and autumn calving.

The family was keen to expand the woodland cover on the farm for a combination of benefits – namely the production of timber and biofuel for the farm – but also to increase the woodland habitat and improve the landscape and provide more shelter for livestock.

Through their work, they now have two new areas of woodland being created on their hill farm. Both new woodlands will create shelter and in return reduce the need to supplement feed and increase carcass weights of cattle. The family also has future plans for creating more woodlands to provide shelter for their stock.

The second upcoming free event will be on Wednesday June 30, in the evening, designed as a 'question time' on woodland creation. This will include an expanded panel consisting of Andrew Adamson of Messrs W Laird and Son, Netherurd Home Farm, Peeblesshire, and members of the Imrie Family of Hillhead Farm, Torrance, Lanarkshire.

Ms White added: “Both events will also have experts from Scottish Forestry who can assist with some of the more technical questions about grants on offer and the process involved.

“We’d welcome questions on all aspects of tree planting and suggested topics for future events. This is a farmer led network so want to hear what would help land managers take that next step to planting trees on their land," she stressed.

“Hopefully farmers and crofters will be able to relate closely to the experiences that our hosts have undertaken to integrate trees into their farming businesses.”

For more information on the free events and booking, visit the Integrating Trees Network website:https://www.farmingforabetterclimate.org/integrating-trees-on-your-land/