Farmer-led tree planting push ‘key to net zero for Scotland’

A farmer-led tree planting revolution can make Scotland a world leader in sustainable and regenerative agriculture and help achieve the government’s net-zero targets, according to the Soil Association.

The organic farm lobby hosted an exhibition at the Scottish parliament on Wednesday 1 June, sponsored by Scottish Greens MSP Arianne Burgess, which brought agroecological farmers and crofters together with policy-makers.

The Transition to Agroecology in Scotland exhibition highlighted how agroforestry and farm woodland can deliver 342,000ha of new woodland by 2050. This could be done through agroforestry, or the integration of trees into arable land and livestock pastures, as well as increasing farm woodland.

See also: How to plant the right tree in the right place on your farm

Farmers demonstrated how they are putting nature-friendly farming into practice, reducing the use of agrochemicals and artificial nitrogen, integrating trees with livestock and crops, improving soil health and increasing biodiversity – all while producing high-quality, high-welfare food to ensure their businesses remain viable.  

The exhibition featured a video from Andrew Barbour’s farm in Perthshire showing how he has successfully integrated agroforestry and woodlands into his livestock hill farm.

A new study, Trees and woodland in the farmed landscape (PDF) by the Soil Association in collaboration with Cumulus Consultants, was unveiled at the event. This demonstrates how a farmer-led tree revolution can help meet tree planting targets.

The Scottish government has set a target to increase annual tree planting to 18,000ha a year by 2024 to mitigate climate change and achieve net-zero targets. If it maintained this rate of tree planting up to 2050, on-farm planting could account for 68% (or more than two-thirds) of that projected total.

Crucial role

Given that 80% of the total land area in Scotland is under agricultural production, the report finds that farmers have a crucial role to play in meeting these targets for tree planting.

Today, one-third of Scotland’s woodland is on farms, about 546,000ha, but the Soil Association argues that agroforestry, or the integration of trees into arable land and livestock pastures, as well as increasing farm woodland could see this grow by 342,000ha by 2050.

The study suggests this could be achieved at an annual cost of £100m, which the lobby group says “looks realistic” compared with the current £600m spent on farm support and the additional £150m allocated to “accelerate progress” on tree planting in the 2021-22 Programme for Government.

David McKay, the Soil Association’s head of policy, said: “The government has set an ambition for Scotland to be a global leader in sustainable and regenerative agriculture. 

“We align with their vision for agriculture and will present evidence of how agroecological and agroforestry farming practices can help achieve this in practice and, in so doing, help restore nature, cut farming emissions and feed everyone a healthy diet.”

Explore more / Transition

This article forms part of Farmers Weekly’s Transition series, which looks at how farmers can make their businesses more financially and environmentally sustainable.

During the series we follow our group of 16 Transition Farmers through the challenges and opportunities as they seek to improve their farm businesses.

Transition is an independent editorial initiative supported by our UK-wide network of partners, who have made it possible to bring you this series.

Visit the Transition content hub to find out more.