The benefits of increased tree cover on ecosystem services from the Welsh uplands: KESS 2 participant Ashley Hardaker’s second paper published in ‘Ecosystem Services’

Bangor University KESS 2 PhD student Ashley Hardaker, who very recently passed his PhD viva , has published a second paper from his PhD in the journal Ecosystem Services (Impact Factor 6.33). This paper evaluates the potential consequences of a range of land-sparing and land-sharing approaches to increase tree cover on the economic value of ecosystem services provided by the Welsh uplands.

Land use in the Welsh uplands is primarily low-intensity sheep and cattle grazing, which supports the livelihoods of a large number of farmers. Expansion of tree cover on agricultural land used for livestock grazing in upland areas is recognised as a potential mechanism for improving the delivery of public ecosystem services, i.e., the wider benefits that society derives from upland areas. However, tree planting on agricultural land is not universally welcomed by farmers whose priorities often do not marry up with policy driven tree planting targets and the historic nature of afforestation in upland areas using large scale conifer plantations.

Whilst it is well acknowledged that planting trees on agricultural land is beneficial for carbon sequestration and flood mitigation, much of this evidence is based on the replacement of agricultural production with trees, so called approaches, which adopt integrated forms of tree cover such as small patches of farm woodland and agroforestry systems (where trees and livestock or crops are produced side by side), could also improve delivery of ecosystem services, and in this paper, Ashley compared how widespread adoption of land-sparing and land-sharing approaches impact ecosystem service delivery. This paper aims to provide more nuance to the debate surrounding future land use in upland agricultural landscapes.

Ashley’s modelling suggests that widespread adoption of land-sparing, i.e., afforesting land and replacing agriculture, could deliver the highest increase in public ecosystem services benefits (+£2.06 billion), but at a cost to the provisioning benefits (-£17.13 billion) derived from agricultural production. In contrast, widespread adoption of land-sharing approaches (i.e., agroforestry systems) could lead to the greatest overall increase in ecosystem service benefits (+£2.62 billion). This increase in benefits is delivered through increases both in private benefits such as livestock and timber production, and also through increases in public benefits such as carbon sequestration. The key findings of this paper are twofold. Land-sharing approaches provide a mix of in-situ benefits that support farmers (only requiring small adaptations to current farming systems) and ex-situ benefits that support society. In contrast, land-sparing approaches provide primarily ex-situ benefits that support society and in-situ benefits that are likely to require major livelihood shifts for farmers.

Ashley’s PhD research project is supported by KESS 2, European Social Funds (ESF) through the Welsh Government and by company sponsors Coed Cymru CYF. The project is an industry-based collaboration with a supervisory team based at Bangor University (Dr Tim Pagella and Dr Mark Rayment) and Gareth Davies (Coed Cymru CYF).

The full published paper entitled “Ecosystem service and dis-service impacts of increasing tree cover on agricultural land by land-sparing and land-sharing in the Welsh uplands” can be viewed here: