FWAG SW are supporting six farmers who have planted trees within pasture used by livestock, on their farms in Devon as a research field lab to learn more about the benefits of combining trees, cows and sheep. We held a panel discussion with some of the farmers at the recent Agroforestry Show in September (Cows and Trees session available here) and the project is really gathering momentum!

FWAG Southwest’s Simeon Day chairing the Cows and Trees session at the Agroforestry Show 2023


The field lab is farmer led but has a number of partners involved: Innovative Farmers, Rothamsted Research, Soil Association, Organic Research Centre, Woodland Trust and FWAG South West. The project was set up to address the lack of science and information available on the impact of silvopasture in the UK and to research key areas such an animal health and welfare, soil carbon and biodiversity.

The farms are spread across the central belt of Devon just north of Dartmoor, have a range of soils and amounts of rainfall and are a mixture of dairy, beef, sheep and arable. Proving that silvopasture will benefit the whole farm system whilst ultimately providing a return on the investment and ensuring other farmers can learn from the work of the field lab are central to the projects’s purpose. This will help justify the commitment to incorporating trees into livestock farming.



Three designs are being tested:

  • planting of trees in groups to mimic a natural wood pasture balance between open pasture and dense clusters of shrubs and trees

  • regularly spaced rows of trees

  • shelterbelts – some large enough to act as living barns


Over the next 12 years a number of research activities will take place:

  • surveys of vegetation, soil organic carbon and insect communities and then these will be monitored to see what impact the trees have on them.
  • sward composition and productivity changes at different rates of canopy development
  • biodiversity research including monitoring of birds, bats and dung beetles.
  • monitoring tree establishment rates and the practicalities of looking after the trees considering the variety of factors which influence this – such as climate, competition and stock accidentally breaking in and eating them all!
  • animal behaviour and health aspects, including the influence of extra shade and shelter on animal performance and disease incidence alongside the livestock’s use of trees as fodder.


Andy Gray, one of the farmers in the field lab, is leading on some of the biodiversity research in particular using AI cameras to monitor dung beetle and fly populations. For this work he is a finalist in the BBC Food and Farming Awards 2023 category The Farming Today Farming for the Future Award. Listen to Radio 4 to find out more about Andy’s farm and hear the awards ceremony.

Hopefully this has given you a flavour of the project but the best way to learn about it is to hear the experiences from the people involved so take a look at the videos of each of the farmers that are available on the Innovative Farmers website, click here. 

From FWAG’s involvement in the field lab we have been impressed how all the farmers are passionate about their trees and the improvements that they can bring to the welfare of their livestock, their business but also the biodiversity of their farm. They have been brave for taking the leap of faith to plant trees before they really knew if the benefits were real – and quite the amount of work it would take to enable them to establish.

But the most important aspect of this project is the opportunity for peer to peer learning through sharing experiences that have been gained through trial and error – you have to give it a go in order to learn!



Banner & Planting Designs by https://www.innovativefarmers.org