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NFFN's Nikki Yoxall wins in Scotland's Finest Woods Awards

NFFN Scotland Steering Group member, Nikki Yoxall, and her partner, James, graze beef cattle in trees at Howemill, Huntly, and were winners in the Young People’s Farm Woodland Award. The awards are supported by SAC Consulting and Scottish Woodlands Ltd.

James and Nikki were praised by judges for their “highly impressive approach to setting up a grazing system where few would even consider it possible” at Howemill Farm in Aberdeenshire. They said it was “a wonderful example of a unique integration of trees and farming” on the Yoxalls’ own 7 hectares and through grazing agreements with neighbours on a further 32 hectares.

The judges concluded: “This business will go from strength to strength and is to be held up as a great example of “it’s not what you hae, but what you do with what you hae”.

Nikki said the trees gave their cattle shelter all year round – offering shade in summer and shelter in winter. “This means the cattle can live outside all year with minimal inputs and we can produce fantastic beef in a way that is totally harmonious with the natural surroundings,” she added. See video here.

We grabbed Nikki for a quick Q&A on her farm woodland approach…

What woodlands do you have on your farm?

We have around 11 acres of woodland on our own holding which is a mix of older birch woodland and more recently planted mixed native woodland. As graziers, we work with a range of landowners and about 80% of our grazing is in mixed native woodland and wood pasture.

What biodiversity and wildlife habits have these woodlands created?

Woodlands offer a range of biodiversity benefits – nesting habitat for birds and bats, huge numbers of insects helping to cycle nutrients from deadwood, as well as foxes, badgers, red squirrels and pine martens. We have noticed an increase in woodland floor flowering plants since we have been grazing through the woodlands, and this year we have found nesting woodcock in our cattle grazed woodlands which was really exciting.

How does your silvopasture system fit into the bigger picture of your farm business?

Silvopasture is absolutely central to our farm business. Trees enable us to graze outside all year round by providing excellent shelter in winter, which is critical in NE Scotland. Year-round grazing means our cattle are healthier, costs are lower and we are providing winter manure to help feed bugs like dung beetles and other soil microbes. This helps us maintain soil and wider ecosystem health.

Moving forward in Scotland, how do you think future woodland planting can maximise outcomes for both nature and farm business?

We have big tree planting targets in Scotland, which is great, but we need to make sure this incorporates ‘right tree, right place’ and that support is available for farmers and crofters to understand, plan and fund agroforestry projects on their land. In addition, there are plenty of field edges and corners that are less productive but would be ideal tree planting ground on every farm.

If you want to learn more about nature-friendly farming in Scotland, email Kirsty at kirsty.tait@nffn.org.uk