Key research questions

  • How do you most effectively integrate trees into productive farmland?
  • How do you balance agricultural productivity with environmental protection including mitigating climate change?
  • How do you design an on-farm agroforestry system to ensure successful establishment and maximised benefits to the producer?

The importance of agroforestry

Agroforestry is a concept of integrated land use that combines elements of agriculture and forestry in a sustainable production system.

In its simplest form, agroforestry can be described as ‘growing trees on farms’ and includes the integration, both ecologically and economically, of the woody elements that may already be present in agricultural landscapes, such as hedgerows, windbreaks, buffer zones, trees in pasture, and small woodlands. At a greater level of complexity are agroforestry systems that are fully integrated structured systems where standard trees, orchard trees and/or coppice systems are grown in rows between crops or pasture in an alley-cropping design.

The focus of our agroforestry research is the evaluation of a range of agroforestry systems (including both crops and livestock) in terms of their productivity, environmental and economic impacts, and their potential for agri-environmental policy. There are both ecological and economic interactions between the trees and crops and/or livestock elements in an agroforestry system. These interactions can lead to higher productivity compared to conventional systems, and provide a wide range of services including soil management, microclimate modification, shelter, weed control, natural fencing, carbon sequestration and nutrient recycling.

Agroforestry systems also support the production of a wide range of varied products including, food, fuel, timber, fodder and forage, fibre, gums and resins, thatching and hedging materials, gardening materials, medicinal products, craft products, recreation and ecological services.

Our work on integrated Agroforestry systems include hedgerows, in studies that recognise their productive value (e.g for biofuels and ramial woodchip) as well as economic and ecological values, and how the national targets for hedgerow creation and restoration can best be met.

Key elements of the theme

Agroforestry, silvoarable, silvopastoral, agrobiodiversity, productive hedges, alley cropping, shelterbelts, in field trees, farm woodlands.

Current projects

Optimum Shelterbelts

The Optimum Shelterbelts project has delivered a suite of production and landscape protocols which will create knowledge of agroforestry systems in UK. These data are designed to be collected in the same timeframe, offering insights into how shelterbelts impact farming and nature over time.

Aiming high for hedgerows

This project explores how the government’s targets of creating or restoring 30,000 miles of hedgerow by 2037 and 45,000 by 2050 can become a reality, looking at the opportunities and also potential barriers to achieving this goal.

Agroforestry ELMS Test on advice and guidance

Building on the recently completed Agroforestry Test 106, this project led by the Woodland Trust will develop different advice and guidance offers to farmers embarking on agroforestry and test their effectiveness in supporting successful design of agroforestry systems

Importance of Hedgerows as Wildlife Corridors

This project aims to prove that connecting patches of woodlands together by hedgerows has a beneficial effect on the woodland ecology by providing a migratory bridge for species from one area to another.


REFOREST – is a 4 year-long Horizon Europe project, bringing together 14 institutions from 10 European countries with extensive expertise in this field. The consortium, which includes ORC, will focus on supporting agroforestry in Europe and removing the barriers preventing its wider use. The project coordinator is the Faculty of Forestry and Wood Sciences of the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague, represented by the Department of Forest Management.

AGROforestry and MIXed farming systems — Participatory research to drive the transition to a resilient and efficient land use in Europe (AGROMIX)

The project investigates the opportunities given by mixed farming and agroforestry systems for carbon balance and climate change mitigation and adaptation

Relevant Publications

  • Smith, J., Pearce, B.D. and Wolfe, M.S. 2012. Reconciling productivity with protection of the environment: Is temperate agroforestry the answer? Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. doi:10.1017/S1742170511000585
  • The biodiversity impacts of establishing a silvoarable agroforestry system – Whitehall Farm, Cambs Ashden Trust
  • Eco-Agroforestry Network
  • Impacts of organic silvoarable systems on pest and disease distribution – Sheepdrove Organic Farm, Berkshire

ORC Researchers and staff

These ORC team members are currently involved in agroforestry projects:
Senior Livestock Researcher
Principal Researcher, Agroforesty
Senior Agroforestry Researcher
Janie Caldbeck
Researcher and Content Editor
Christian Gossel
Farm Sustainability Researcher