The challenges of a changing climate
A changing climate brings with it more extreme weather, challenges to our wildlife - from butterflies to eagles, and uncertainty over our food supplies. The flooding of recent years has focussed minds on how to reduce climate change emissions but also on the management of our countryside to prevent the worst damage. Planting more trees can be a simple and effective way to soak up CO2, stabilise soils and provide habitats for wildlife. But we need to plant the right trees in the right places.
Planting closely spaced Sitka Spruce on farmland absorbs CO2 emissions and provides timber but it takes land out of food production and may remove open habitats which are home to a range of insects, plants, birds and animals. Agroforestry is a way of combining two land uses, forestry and farming. Trees can be grown among crops, or on the land used for grazing animals or poultry. Ongoing research has shown that there can be many benefits for farm animals, soils and general biodiversity in agroforestry systems. Decisions about how many trees to plant in an area, how far apart to space them, and which species or types of trees (timber, fruit, nut) to plant are fundamental to the success of agroforestry.
Two of the key challenges to increasing the level of agroforestry in Scotland are that we have very few working examples to inspire uptake, and that agroforestry requires farmers, foresters, conservationists and land owners to cooperate in new and dynamic ways. To address this professional skills gap ARCH, along with the Woodland Trust and other NET Consortium partners, coordinated an Erasmus+ funded course delivered by the Dehesa San Francisco in Andalucia. Eight participants including foresters, farmers, and conservation professionals from Scotland travelled to Andalucia in April 2019 to learn how the forested grasslands of the Dehesas provide cork, ham, beef and wool, support a wonderful range of biodiversity, and prevent the desertification of this landscape.
The benefits of dehesa
We learned about the management of the dehesa itself including the trees, the farm animals, conservation of wild species and about the harvesting and marketing of the products. We visited special producers and cooperatives for ham, cork, wool and lamb, and we witnessed how the dehesa provides rural employment and learning opportunities for local and international audiences. The participants from a range of Scottish organisations also had the chance to debate together how we might develop and encourage Scottish models of agroforestry.
Ernestine Lüdeke of the Fundación Monte Mediterráneo describes the dehesa as like a mobile, each element is interconnected and reliant on all other elements for balance. When you lose anything, even the tiniest beetle, the whole system becomes unbalanced. We learned that it is possible to combine organic food production, rural employment and a healthy ecosystem, even in the face of climate change.
To find out how we are disseminating this learning to key audiences please visit our website (https://archnetwork.org/category/reports/spain-2019/).
Seona Anderson is the Programme Director for Archnetwork, Scotland. Archnetwork is an Erasmus+ funded initiative that allows different Erasmus+ projects to come together to post reports on progression, encourage dissemination and share best practice.
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