Farming With Nature: Trees For Shelter, Animal Fodder & Wildlife Habitats

Rebecca Hosking
Saturday, 14th February 2015

Village Farm in Devon are planting thousands of trees on their pasture. Rebecca Hosking explains that they not only create shelter and fuel but can feed and act as a tonic for livestock and provide habitat for wildlife.

One of the many reasons we are planting 1000s of different trees on the farm is to grow foliage for food for our animals.

Back before we had the Enclosures Act in the UK, animals would be free (albeit with a shepherd or herdsman) to roam the land picking and choosing what they preferred to eat and thus giving themselves a wonderfully balanced diet. Today we are using mob grazing on Village Farm. This means we divide our fields up into paddocks and move the flock daily on to fresh ground. It's fascinating to watch each animal heading towards different plants.

Some plants such as ivy are a real tonic to an under-the-weather ewe, so depending what they're eating we can gauge their health. Given the choice, nine times out of ten our flock will make a beeline for the shrubs and tree branches before tackling the pasture plants. That's because the protein levels in tree leaves are far higher than that of grass and herbs.

Depending on the tree species, the protein levels in some tree foliage can be higher than that of oats.

Similarly due to trees having such deep taproots they are able to draw up far greater levels on minerals through their trunks and branches into their leaves. This means our flock only has to eat a few leaves to gain the same amount of energy and nutrition as they would from munching through mouthfuls of pasture.

Case in point, they demolished the leaves off this Holm Oak today with great enthusiasm (see lead picture).

Tree Species for Tree Fodder & More!

All the trees that we are planting are both wind and maritime tolerant and some are more salt tolerant than others.

Monterey pine (Pinus radiata- a first line of defence and down here they grow like Jack's magic beans! Some are being grown as sacrificial nursery trees to be felled quite young.

Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus- Will grow in the most salt blasted areas and gives protection to others behind it. Also what's good for aphids is good for birds. Will be one of our first wood fuel trees ready to coppice.

Italian alder (A. cordata/ alder - Nitrogen fixers being planted beside any slower growing 'great trees' like holly, oaks and holms.

Elder (Sambucus nigra- actually it's a livestock deterrent, livestock don't like eating it, so we plant it to guard another tree they have a taste for. The berries are obviously fantastic for birds and food for us.

White poplar (Populus alba- fast growing and aggressive roots for breaking up soil compaction.

Willow - local goat (Salix caprea) - stock fodder and many craft uses. A bit experimental in the salty conditions.

Holly (Ilex aquifolium- fodder, winter shelter and berries for birds. It puts up with a lot of salt spray.

Holm Oak (Quercus ilex- very salt tolerant, grows well here on the cliffs. Leaf fodder and the acorns will be wonderful for our pigs. Not a good biodiversity tree in UK so planting is well spaced.

Oak (Quercus robur) - timber, biodiversity and sheep love oak acorns even though conventional farming wisdom tells us they are poisonous.

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) - used as protection to other edible fodder trees.

Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa- boundary bushes to grow on our farm hedge boundaries.

Beech (Fagus sylvatica- does well in salt spray places - used for hedging and timber. Suppresses understorey which can be handy along fence lines. Also beech nuts to feed pigs.

Sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa- grown tightly for coppice wood (fence posts) and more widely spaced to harvest the nuts and use them.

Ash (Fraxinus excelsior- for timber/firewood and also doing our bit to breed trees that may be resistant to ash dieback.

Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris- fodder, winter shelter and very pretty!

Aspen (Populus tremula) - wind tolerant shelter and a very pleasant tree to sit under in a breeze.

Wych elm (Ulmus glabra- the dominant tree up here on the high windswept ground.

Hazel (Corylus avellana- fodder and nuts and obviously wildlife like dormice.

Further Resources!

Farming With Nature: why we welcome moles on the farm

Farming With Nature: Rewilding Pasture

Rebecca Hosking and Tim Green made the film Farm For the Future for the BBC exploring peak oil, climate change and permaculture.

They now run Village Farm, featured in Permaculture 83. In 'Farming With Nature', by Maddy Harland, she describes how Village Farm is being transformed from a grazed out, ploughed out landcsape into a biodiverse farm with the help of holistic grazing, hedgerow regeneration, tree planting and other regenerative techniques.

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