Enhancing Agricultural Productivity and Ecosystem Service Resilience in Multifunctional Landscapes

Cluster Leader: Dr. Andy Smith, Bangor University

The presence of hedgerows and trees in pastures creates a ‘multifunctional landscape’ that can improve the wellbeing and productivity of livestock through the provision of shelter and foliage. Such a landscape can simultaneously support other landscape services, such as climate and flood regulation, soil health, carbon sequestration and nutrient conservation. Deforestation during the 19th Century, however, reduced UK tree cover to 5% of land area. In Wales, recent policies have increased this to 15%, but the role of trees in sustainable agriculture is not yet fully addressed.

Multi-Land examined how trees and hedgerows in the landscape affect animal behaviour, improve ecosystem services, and alter nutrient cycling and soil biogeochemistry.


To improve the understanding of:

  • The interactions between grazing livestock, pasture plant species, soil functioning and delivery of ecosystem services.
  • The role of animal behaviour, nutrition and metabolism in increasing productivity and reducing GHG emissions.

Research activities:

  • Applying metabolomics knowledge from model organisms (such as rodents) to livestock to improve our understanding of livestock nutrition, metabolism and microbiology and their effects on animal behaviour and production.
  • Using new precision-farming technologies in field experiments to assess the impacts of the ingestion of tree leaves on sheep parasite load.
  • Development of realistic, life-sized, models of sheep containing environmental sensors to measure the impact of tree and hedgerow shelter on sheep heat loss and metabolic rate. The results were combined with local weather data to create an online tool for designing shelter locations.
  • Investigating the intake of tree and hedgerow browse material in sheep diets to assess the digestibility and role of different feed components on the suppression of greenhouse gas (e.g. methane) production in the rumen.
  • Assessing the impact of different tree species on flood mitigation via their rooting structures across different soil types throughout Wales.
  • Creating a map of soil carbon stocks and flows around hedgerows in collaboration with the Fferm Ifan farming group in the Upper Conwy catchment.
  • Investigating the effects of hedgerows on biodiversity and water regulation in the Welsh uplands.

Key findings:

  • Strategic integration of trees and hedgerows into farming systems and the wider landscape increases ecological complexity, multi-functionality and resilience.
  • Tree and hedgerow shelter improves animal energy balance, with the potential to improve farm production efficiency and animal welfare.
  • Hedgerows reduce compaction and enhance soil organic carbon storage in livestock grazed pastures, with the potential for climate change mitigation.
  • Tree species-specific differences in root morphology substantially alter soil water infiltration. The fastest infiltration rate was found with ash (Fraxinus excelsior). The loss of ash to disease is likely, therefore, to have an effect on landscape hydrology and flooding.
  • Tree fodder can reduce ruminant methane production compared to hay; highlighting the potential to use trees as browse material to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from grazed pasture.

Publication highlights:

  • Alzarhani, A.K., Clark, D.R., Underwood, G.J.C., Ford, H., Cotton, T.E.A., Dumbrell, A.J. (2019) Are the drivers of fungal community structure context specific? The ISME Journal (Nature)
  • Ford, H., Healey, J.R., Markesteijn, L., Smith, A.R. (2018). How does grazing management influence the functional diversity of oak woodland ecosystems? A plant trait approach. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 258: 154-161.
  • He, Y., Jones, P., and Rayment, M. (2017). A simple parameterisation of windbreak effects on wind speed reduction and resulting thermal benefits to sheep. Agricultural & Forest Meteorology 239: 96-107.

The NRN-LCEE produced the following briefing on the policy implications of Multi-Land’s research:

Impacts of trees on farm ecosystem services

The Multi-Land researchers included:

Bangor University

  • Andy Smith                    
  • John Healey                   
  • Mark Rayment                
  • Tim Pagella                    
  • Hilary Ford                     
  • Bid Webb         

Aberystwyth University

  • Christina Marley          
  • Diego Moya            

Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Bangor                                

  • David Robinson

Woodland Trust

  • Clare Morgan
  • Mike Townsend

National Trust

  • Arwyn Owen                  
  • Sabine Nouvet             

Coed Cymru

  • Gareth Davies                

Snowdonia National Park

  • Rhys Owen              

Please see the ‘NRN-LCEE Final Overview 2013-2019’  for further details of the Cluster’s research.