11 December 1998

Trees and sheep compatible fg

A PROJECT launched in Scotland last week aims to prove that trees and sheep can prosper together on hill farms and without reducing stock numbers.

One-third of the land currently used by sheep is to be planted at SACs hill and mountain research centre at Kirkton, Crianlarich, Perthshire.

Sheep will be allowed into the plantation during summer once trees are well enough established to withstand the pressure. Avenues through the trees will allow sheep access and facilitate gathering. The forestry design also incorporates numerous open spaces.

The woodland will occupy the lower, more sheltered hill ground where sheep traditionally spent their winter. Now they are to be wintered on lowland dairy farms, and SAC expects better nutrition and climate on the lowland farms to improve animal condition, lambing rates, birthweights, and lamb survival to such an extent that costs will be covered.

Wintering capacity

Stocking rate at Kirkton is set by the wintering capacity so the sheep and trees project will not reduce stock numbers.

Benefits to the trees are expected to include improved natural regeneration as the sheep disturb soil and create better conditions for germination. Increased shelter is expected to improve grass growth and the open nature of woodland should improve grazing in the long term.

The project, grant aided by the EU, government, Scottish Natural Heritage and the MLC, also has support from the Forestry Comm-issions woodland grant scheme.

The woodland area at Kirkton will cover 300ha (740 acres) in two fenced blocks and will include 80ha (200 acres) of open spaces. Sheep will pass through the forested area to the higher land during summer. They will be allowed into the forest some time between five and 10 years after trees are planted. &#42