How trees are solving farm problems in the Glens of Antrim

A five-year tree planting programme in the Glens of Antrim is aiming to build a more resilient landscape.

More than a dozen farmers in the Glens are already on-board, with 2,125ac of land surveyed.

The scheme – which is run by Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust and the Woodland Trust – aims to conserve and enhance the natural and built heritage of the Glens of Antrim, while boosting the area’s tourism and the profitability of farms.

As a result, 198ac of land and around six miles of hedgerows have already been planted since 2016.

‘Green infrastructure’

The success of the scheme seems to be down to its level of engagement with working farmers.

Dr. Reamai Mathers, the landscape partnership manager, said: “We’re putting the business needs of the farmer first and foremost.

“We’ve seen challenging times for farmers, with extremes of weather and flooding commonplace. And, essentially, we’re using ‘green infrastructure’ – trees, hedging, woodland and species-rich pasture – as a natural ally to tackle a range of issues.

“We’re surveying each farm individually and developing separate farm plans based on their particular needs.”

Mathers explained trees are being planted on farms for a variety of reasons, including:
  • Shelter for livestock;
  • A sustainable source of wood fuel;
  • And improved water quality and drainage.

“It’s good news for farm profits and – at the same time – we’ll see undoubted and multiple environmental benefits,” he said.

Extending the grazing season

Paddy McSparron, a beef and sheep farmer in Glendun, was one of the first to get planting.

He runs 80 suckler cows and 500 cross-bred ewes on his 160ha farm in the Glens of Antrim. The majority of planting took place during 2016-17, with the remainder taking place this year.

The prospect of improved shelter-belts and drainage were just some of the reasons why he got involved in the scheme.

One year on, he says he has already seen an improvement in the land.

He said: “One of the main areas was planting shelter-belts on the farm, planting hedgerows and double-fencing it.

On my own farm it has helped me greatly; in operating a rotation system, particular parts of the farm that I couldn’t graze properly before can now be grazed for about eight months of the year instead of two.

As part of the scheme McSparron visited other farms for inspiration. As a result, he is now considering introducing Shorthorn cattle to the farm.

“I’ve a few Shorthorn calves so we’ll see how that goes. I’ll maybe introduce a bull and see how that goes.”

McSparron said he hoped a forest would give the next generation to run the farm an alternative income and added that the trees could also reduce problems with fluke by providing better drainage.

“At the end of the day farming is a business so it’s all about improving the profitability of the farm,” he said.

Gregor Fulton, estate and outreach manager with the Woodland Trust, added: “Trees and farming shouldn’t be a contradictory land use.

“Rather, in today’s challenging climate, trees bring real benefits – to the soil, water, livestock and crops – and with the potential to offer an alternative income for the farm.

“We’re encouraging some of the farmers to plant hedgerows with a difference; they typically include a double row of hedgerow species and a double row of trees, with fencing on either side.

“At over four metres wide in places, they’re much thicker and robust than the usual hedgerow and will soon resemble a long narrow strip of woodland.”