A Practical Guide to Conservation Arboriculture and Agroforestry

What is Arboriculture?

Arboriculture is a fairly broad horticultural discipline that encompasses the cultivation and management of trees, shrubs and other woody plants. As well as prolonging healthy life through pruning, bracing and shaping, pest control, fertilisation and selective tree felling, arboriculture is also a science that seeks to understand how trees respond to effects on the environment. In that sense it falls under and informs the fields of conservationism, farming, forestry and landscaping in public spaces.

By managing trees on an individual, wood or forest wide basis, arborists work closely with land owners and conservationists in helping to prolong the life of trees by maintaining tree stability and health. Arborists are also trained in understanding the legal and health and safety implications of keeping trees in public spaces or on commercial property, especially when those trees become unstable and deemed dangerous to the public. Public safety is as much an essential element of tree stewardship as conservation in this sense.

Conservation Arboriculture

Conservation arboriculture seeks to look at tree stewardship and management purely form an ecosystem based perspective. It’s focus is to preserve the life of the most valuable trees and wooded shrubs, based on the requirement of maintaining varied and sustainable biodiversity. Often this means maintaining the oldest trees that tend to represent much larger arks of biodiversity than younger trees.

What is Agroforestry?

Agroforestry is essentially a cross between agriculture and forestry. In some senses, it takes the essentials of conservation arboriculture and applies it to farmland. On a global scale it represents a hugely important field as it seeks to establish bio diversity on land primarily used for growing crops or rearing livestock. By reducing dependency on monoculture agroforestry creates more diverse, sustainable and ultimately economically viable agricultural land.

There are three types of agroforestry systems, depending on the type of farmland in use:

  • Agrisilvicultural systems: Growing trees and crops together
  • Silvopastoral systems: Forestry and animal grazing land is combined in a way that mutually benefits the other
  • Agrosilvopastoral systems: Forestry, animal grazing land and crops are all combined so that animals are able to graze after harvesting

I want to explain now, why these practices, especially that of agroforestry in particular, are important to conservationism and mitigating against deforestation in the 21st century.

Why is Agroforestry Important to Conservation?

There are three fundamental factors that relate to the use of arboriculture general and agroforestry specifically. I have outlined each below. 

  1. Environmental

By encouraging tree growth in agricultural land, agroforestry helps protect soil from erosion, and re-establish soil quality on overly farmed land. By creating natural ecosystems, agroforestry has also cut back on the need for insecticides and herbicides used to kill insectoid pests and weeds. Agroforestry also creates natural shelter for livestock, as well as wildlife. It should go without saying, that any practice that encourages the cultivation and management of trees over large areas is helping mitigate against deforestation and contributes towards carbon sequestration.

  1. Social

Arboriculture is heavily involved in preserving and promoting trees in public spaces, which brings great social benefits, including promoting education on trees and the issues they face in our changing global environment. For poor communities that are dependent on farming, agroforestry can lead to less food shortages, as a result of over-farmed monocultures that are prone to drought or floods. Higher yields also mean higher incomes, which means greater social mobility along with all the benefits that can bring on a local, regional or national scale.

  1. Economic

Agroforestry itself has brought huge social benefits to farmers in some of the poorest parts of the world. Higher quality soil means higher quantity yields of fruit and crops, increasing profitability and boosting local economies. Higher incomes for farmers, means social development in the form of schools and education in communities that rely on agriculture. By giving farmers an incentive to grow trees instead of chopping them down to grow crops, agroforestry can help shift the economic model to one that puts forestry on a level pegging with agriculture.

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