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Castle Sinniness Farm

  • South West Scotland - Coastal

  • Farmer: Robert Fleming

  • 240ha

  • Beef cattle and breeding sheep

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Battling the elements

Robert Fleming farms 240 hectares in South West Scotland, right on the beautiful coast looking out towards the Isle of Man.  With beef cattle and a breeding herd of sheep, Robert is now running the the family farm – his parents having stepped away 5 years ago.

When he was having a chat with his relationship manager from the Bank of Scotland, he was introduced to Soil Association Exchange.

‘There were two things I wanted to find out’ says Robert.  Firstly, where do we sit right now – essentially some baselines to work from.  Secondly, where are our simple gains?  What are we missing because we are too close to it?’

Getting his carbon balance down was also key for Robert, being aware that a lot of carbon comes in through inputs at the moment. “With carbon a potential currency of the future, getting our balance down is important, as well as locking in extra carbon through things like agroforestry and trees”

Robert continues “We got involved very much to help our own business decision making, and that goes hand in hand with doing the right thing environmentally. We need to take responsibility for what we do, and for where we stand now – so we know the story from the very beginning”. ‘Once we had signed up, the process was fairly easy’ Robert says. ‘Having someone on the ground to see the farm and take samples, but also run through all the office based information really helped”


The core challenge:

Being right on the coast, the farm is exposed to winds and rain. This makes lambing in a very windy April challenging when it comes to shelter.

Exchange advisor Clive Thomas discussed Agroforestry options for Robert, which could provide shelter in some lower areas of the farm, and then other native trees for more exposed areas.

Agroforestry when designed for integration with livestock, is called a silvo-pastoral system (you can download a comprehensive agroforestry handbook from the Soil Association here). As well as supporting biodiversity in-field through the planting of trees, there can be multiple other benefits. Robert’s sheep will benefit from the shade but once the trees are robust enough, there will be browsing opportunities as well. The positive impact on soil organic matter of leaf fall and nutrient cycling will be across the whole field, and there will be more substantial carbon sequestration in the trees.

With all these potential benefits and careful design to ensure a low enough density of trees and appropriate species, there might not be an impact on overall productivity from any field parcels devoted to a silvo-pastoral system.

Although costs per planting each tree can be quite high due to the need for adequate individual tree protection Clive suggested experimenting with a small area to test the benefits and impacts.  Financially this could be supported by applying for a recently enhanced grant support for agroforestry in Scotland, which provides a good level of capital support.

Robert continues “Clive was able to point us to the right advice for the tree planning and agroforestry funding.  He also linked us up with Agroforestry businesses in Northern Ireland to give their advice on their experiences as they have been doing this for years”

Clive also recommended some other quick wins, especially for hedgerows. Implementing a 3 or even 4 year cycle for hedgerow cutting across the farm is one of these. There will be exceptions for roadside hedges, but for all other internal hedges simply divide the length into 4, and cut one-quarter every 4 years. The hedges will respond by flowering and fruiting more readily and there could also be a small saving in diesel and workload through less frequent cutting. This change in management will help Robert’s biodiversity but should also have other multiple benefits such as storing more carbon and providing  much needed shelterbelt impact for the farms livestock.

Impacting the business

‘We’re in an investment phase of our business.  Getting a better understanding of where we stood, matched with some sound advice has given confidence to take the next step’.

Robert is now busy planning in some tree planting and paying further attention to hedgerows. “There is no harm in finding out where you stand.  I’ve yet to find a perfect business and there is a lot of things that farmers are very good at, but there are also areas where we could all learn a little bit more”

Financial guidance:

Agroforestry Development: Woodland Trust MoreTrees, MoreWoods. Capital grant funding through Scottish Gov Agroforestry scheme within the Forestry Grant Scheme.

Hedge support: Hedgelaying support through MoreHedges/MoreWoods Woodland Trust schemes.

Agri-Environment Climate Scheme (AECS) hedgerow creation at £1.20/metre hedge planting, and £5.50/metre for stock fencing.

Applying for ‘Preparing for Sustainable Farming (PSF)’ funding.

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