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Daphne Jackson Trust Fellowship Award: Determining the impact of forest gardens on raspberry production

29 August 2014 - 28 August 2016

PI/s in Exeter:  

Funding awarded: £ 55,437

Sponsor(s): BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council)

About the research

With a growing global population, it is vital we develop sustainable farming method(s). Agroforestry-based farming systems, could be one solution, as they are managed to obtain multiple social, economic and environmental benefits at local, regional and national scales. Typically these systems are two storey plantations of perennial crops e.g. trees (fruit/timber) either under-grazed by livestock or under-planted with a crop. Subsequently they should reduce the environmental impact of farming since they require less soil disturbance, maintenance and fertiliser than the annual crops we are reliant on.

Agroforestry Systems in the neo-tropics and old world tropics, called Home Gardens, have been established for over 12,000 years. Developed close to a family home, Home Gardens contain a large number of economically exploited perennial plant species grown on multiple layers i.e. canopy trees (e.g. for timber); smaller shade tolerant fruit/ nut trees; shrubs and bushes; herbaceous layer of perennial herbs and vegetables; groundcover plants; underground layer i.e. root crops and vertical layer of climbers and vines.

Forest Gardens, first introduced into the UK in the 1980’s, are Home Gardens dominated by trees. Heralded as sustainable systems beneficial to humans and wildlife, they are gaining popularity in the UK with horticulturists, farmers, local communities, schools and the public. They are planted with a wide variety of plants (either native or exotic in origin) with multiple uses e.g. food, firewood, fertilizer, medicine or decoration. Subsequently Forest Gardens are thought to be more resilient to extreme environmental events than annual monoculture crops. However due to the novelty of the system in temperate zones, it is believed few agricultural scientists have studied these systems.

Raspberries, one of the UK’s favourite soft fruit to grow, are a common component of Forest Gardens and allotments. Though fruit can be produced from self-pollination, cross-pollination produces substantially heavier berries. In 2011 commercially cultivated raspberry production was valued at around £145 million, making them an important UK economic crop. With an un-met demand for purchasing UK grown soft fruit in season, there is scope for increasing the number of raspberry consumers. Therefore soft fruit production could provide a secure, sustainable and healthy horticultural industry for the UK. Moreover raspberries are beneficial to wildlife, with their nectar-rich flowers attracting a variety of insects including pollinators (bumblebees and honeybees).

My interest lies in determining how FG raspberry cultivation varies in terms of productivity, pest attack, pollination and socio-economic benefits compared to allotments or commercially cultivated raspberries. Could Forest Gardens enable local communities to become more self-sufficient thereby alleviating both the pressure of UK agricultural production and our reliance on fruit imports?