Shropshire Farming Talk: Oliver Scott of Bradford Estates
The changing of the seasons has provided a welcome opportunity for the Bradford Estates team to check on the progress of some of the environmental projects under way on our 6000 acres on the Shropshire-Staffordshire border.
Focussing on sustainable farming systems, our ambition is to establish the largest regenerative farm in the region which we aim to become a centre of farming excellence to help advance the understanding of sustainable farming systems and practices.
Our projects, all shaped around a 100-year plan, include the transformation of a 10-acre field into an apple orchard as part of a plan to create a new eco-habitat.
The land at Crackley Bank, Sherrifhales, was traditionally used for arable farming but has been changed under an innovative agroforestry project with funding from Shropshire Council and the Network Rail National Community Tree Planting Programme, both of which were supported by national charity the Tree Council.
Where previously there was a single crop of barley, we added designed tree planting to grow apples for juice. Livestock is being grazed on the land, whilst it is hoped that birds and insects will be attracted by the creation of orchard and pasture habitats.
A year on from embarking on the project, we have taken a cut of hay from between the trees and are taking advice from a top fruit grower colleague on the future management of the apple crops.
It has been encouraging to see how fruit trees can thrive in this area, which we hope will provide learnings for the wider farm system.
So far we have not seen any harm to the trees from pests, nor have deer damaged the saplings, both of which would have been worrying signs for the future success.
It has been a great experiment to watch so far, giving us ideas about how we could build on this progress moving forwards.
It will be up to four years before we see any fruit from the trees but we hope our project will give some insights into whether Shropshire can grow more produce.
Agroforestry has been promoted by the Government as it enhances the environment and provides business resilience due to its two sources of income.
Landowners will need to see evidence of its success before trialling agroforestry, rolling such habitats out across the arable system.
One of the benefits of working for a larger landowner like Bradford Estates is that we can take the lead on these sorts of projects, invest the time to see the benefits and hopefully inspire others to take up the challenge in the future.
Oliver Scott is Farms Director at Bradford Estates