Silvopastoral agroforestry is a practice of land management which combines livestock farming and forestry on the same area of land. When managed correctly, agroforestry can not only produce multiple commodities from the livestock and timber production, but also non-commodity outputs such as environmental protection and enhancement. Modern agroforestry practices are a mechanism to reverse the current practices and make agricultural farming more ‘ecologically intensive’ and sustainable.
The agricultural industry is a vibrant rural sector in Scotland, accounting for 5.6 million hectares of land (Scottish Government, 2015). In recent years, there has been a shift in interest for how these lands should be used, from conventional farming practices towards a more holistic farming approach. With conventional farming depicting one extreme of agriculture, sustainable farming represents the other. Sustainable agriculture revolves around the concept of farming practices which rely on using ecological processes, biodiversity and natural cycles adapted to local conditions, limiting the use of external inputs of agro-chemicals and minerals with adverse effects (Rolling and Wagemaker, 1998). Combining traditions, innovations and science, sustainable agriculture benefits the shared environment producing a number of social, economic and environmental benefits for the people involved and ecosystems.
To this end, Ecometrica Award winner Zoe Whitley has undertaken a study to develop a prototype model, using Geographic Information System (GIS) technology and the Ecometrica Platform, for depicting areas across Scotland that are suitable for integrating with silvopastoral systems (SPS).
In line with the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), there is an increasing amount of support from governments in many European countries to establish more sustainable farming practices. The current mechanism for supporting sustainable development in Scotland is the Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP) 2014-2020. The scheme aims to support the vibrant agriculture and rural sector by encouraging the growth of good farming practices and good agri-business, protecting the natural environment.
Modern agroforestry is a potential land use solution that addresses some of the key goals of the SRSP. Silvopastoral agroforestry has been shown in the UK to provide a number of benefits to farmers, which has now been recognised by the Scottish government. Farmers who are seeking to practise silvopastoral farming will now have the opportunity to be supported by the Forestry Grant Scheme under the SRDP.
Ecometrica Mapping is used to assist farmers determine if their land is suitable for agroforestry practices and provide guidance on the support available to them. The Forestry Grant Scheme has provided criteria that land owners must abide by in order to receive support. The option provides grant support to help create small scale woodlands within sheep grazing pastures. The rate of capital grant you can claim depends on the number of trees that you plant per hectare. The minimum eligible area is 0.25 hectares with a maximum area of five hectares per farm business unit. The government also stated that trees planted must be either Oak, Sycamore, Wild Cherry or Beech. The application has focussed on Wild Cherry but there is potential to analyze the other tree species.
The platform illustrates several attributes: the ecological suitability, the overall suitability and opportunity for agroforestry practices to provide environmental benefits.
The ecological suitability of a tree is derived from a combination of several climatic, soil and topographic datasets.
The overall suitability of agroforestry practices is determined by the eligibility criteria as stated in the Forestry Grant Scheme. The land intended to be planted with tree must be permanent grassland pasture within a class range between 3.1 and 4.2 inclusive in the LandCapability for Agriculture classification map.
The platform is also used to illustrate the opportunities to provide benefits towards biodiversity and natural flood management from agroforestry practises. Restoring habitat networks and providing natural flood management methods are two key areas goals of the Scottish government. It is important that the opportunity to provide these benefits via agroforestry is illustrate for continued support of the sustainable practice and to raise awareness of the benefits that may be provided to the farmers.