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Providing evidence to improve practice

Action: Plant trees on farmland Terrestrial Mammal Conservation

Key messages

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  • Four studies evaluated the effects on mammals of planting trees on farmland. Two studies were in the UK, one was in Italy and one was in Australia.



  • Abundance (2 studies): Two replicated studies (including one controlled, and one site comparison study), in the UK, found that farm woodland supported a higher small mammal abundance than on arable land or similar abundance compared to uncultivated field margins and set-aside.


  • Use (2 studies): A study in Italy found that tree stands were used more by European hares compared to the wider farmed landscape. A replicated study in Australia found that trees planted on farmland were used by koalas.

Supporting evidence from individual studies


A replicated, controlled study in 1999 on three mainly arable farms in Yorkshire, UK (Moore et al. 2003) found that establishing new woodland plantations on former arable land increased small mammal abundance. Average small mammal abundance in plantations (1.1 individuals/trap) was higher than on arable land (0.4 individuals/trap). Small mammal species richness in plantations (4–6 species/site) was also higher than on arable land (1–4 species/site), although this difference was not tested for statistical significance. Twelve plantations (0.17–2.0 ha), established in 1992–1997, were surveyed, along with arable plots adjacent to 10 of these. Plantations, predominantly of broad-leaved trees, were on ex-arable land. Dense grasses and other herbaceous plants dominated vegetation at time of surveys. Planted trees were ≤4 m high. Arable plots were sown with winter cereals and contained little cover. Small mammals were surveyed using Longworth live traps over four continuous days and nights, between 22 November and 4 December 1999.


A replicated, site comparison study in 2003–2004 in an agricultural area in Yorkshire, UK (Askew et al. 2007) found that farm woodland had similar numbers of small mammals compared to uncultivated field margins and set-aside. There was no significant difference in the annual average numbers of small mammals caught in farm woodland (2.4–2.8 individuals), 2-m-wide field margins (2.9–4.4), 6-m-wide field margins (2.5–3.6) and set-aside (1.6–2.0). In the first year, more wood mice Apodemus sylvaticus were caught in farm woodland (1.4 individuals) and in 6-m-wide margins (1.1) than in set-aside (0.5), but fewer common shrews Sorex arenaeus were in farm woodland (0.6 individuals) or set-aside (0.6) than in 2-m-wide margins (1.4). No other species differences between treatments were found. Farm woodland comprised young trees (age not stated), fenced and with grass generally uncut. Field margins, sown with grass, were 2 m wide (cut every 2–3 years) or 6 m wide (cut every 1–3 years). Set-aside areas were fallow for ≥5 years, with ≥90% of the area cut annually. Twelve small mammal traps were set in each of 20 plots/treatment (1 m from the habitat boundary) for four days in November–December in each of 2003 and 2004.


A study in 2005 in an area of arable farmland with scattered woodland cover in Lombardy Region, Italy (Cardarelli et al. 2011) found that presence of tree stands increased the use of an area by European hares Lepus europaeus. Of plots where hare faecal pellets were present, 12% were in poplar groves, compared to 5% of plots where pellets were absent being in poplar groves. In addition, 16% of plots with pellets were in short rotation forestry compared to 6% of plots without pellets. Arboriculture comprised poplar groves and short-rotation (2–5 year) forestry. Habitat use was assessed by recording presence or absence of hare faecal pellets in 150 randomly located plots, of 1-m radius, across an 820-ha study area, in March–May 2005.


A replicated study in 2006 of 19 tree plots in New South Wales, Australia (Rhind et al. 2014) found that trees planted on farmland were used by koalas Phascolarctos cinereus. Of the 19 plots surveyed, 14 had evidence of use by koalas. In eight plots, over 40% of trees inspected were used by koalas. Koala pellets were recorded under 16 of 25 tree species or species groups inspected. Trees closer to potential source populations and older trees were more likely to be used by koalas (results presented as statistical model). Nineteen plots (15 linear tree corridors and four patches of trees), aged 6–15 years (planted 1990–2001) were studied (plot sizes not stated). Plots were on 10 farms and in two roadside plantings. Every fifth tree (>2 m high), along pre-determined transects of up to 100 trees/plot, was assessed for presence of koala pellets within a 1-m radius of the tree base.

Referenced papers

Please cite as:

Littlewood, N.A., Rocha, R., Smith, R.K., Martin, P.A., Lockhart, S.L., Schoonover, R.F., Wilman, E., Bladon, A.J., Sainsbury, K.A., Pimm S. and Sutherland, W.J. (2020) Terrestrial Mammal Conservation: Global Evidence for the Effects of Interventions for terrestrial mammals excluding bats and primates. Synopses of Conservation Evidence Series. University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.