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Agroforestry, net zero and biodiversity

  • by JW

“Agroforestry systems both in temperate regions and in the Mediterranean represent highly valuable habitats for birds.” [Manon Edo of Agricology]


Agroforestry is being seen more and more as “a key response to achieving Net Zero emissions, both within the UK and globally… Trees and hedgerows can offer a fantastic opportunity to take carbon out of the atmosphere, whilst providing many other benefits.”

This could be called farming in 3D, as “the roots reach deep into the ground to cycle nutrients and store carbon, while above ground, the trees protect crops and animals against the elements”.

It’s also very much about creating more agroforestry… to support bird diversity! – as reported by Manon Edo of Agricology:

Recently, agroforestry systems, i.e. the combination of trees with crops and/or livestock on the same piece of land, have been regaining attention … and not without good reason! While these systems were widespread in the past, over the last decades they have fallen out of favour in many regions across Europe, often linked with agricultural intensification where trees and hedges were hindering the use of large machinery. Fortunately, this mindset has started to change.

However, up until now, few studies have evaluated the effect of agroforestry on bird diversity in farmland systems. This was the gap we aimed to fill with our study, which was part of the AGROMIX project (a Horizon 2020 project, see here for more information).

We compared the diversity of breeding birds in mature agroforestry sites with purely woody systems (forests and tree plantations), and croplands or pastures without trees as a reference in seven European countries: England, Switzerland, France (two sites), Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain. In total, nineteen agroforestry plots and thirty-four reference plots were sampled. We assessed bird diversity via audio recordings using AudioMoth® recorders which we set up in each plot three times over the course of the breeding season in 2021 and 2022.

Silvopastoral field in Germany (Odernheim-am-Glann), with cattle (did not want to be photographed) and apple trees

In summary, we show that agroforestry systems both in temperate regions and in the Mediterranean represent highly valuable habitats for birds. Their wider implementation across Europe could thus play an important role in halting and reversing the decline of bird diversity in European farmland.