Eco-agriculture increases biodiversity and crop yields

Results from a 10-year project show that rebuilding areas can increase biodiversity and crop yields.

Setting aside farmland for nature has no negative effect on food security, study finds.

A 10-year project from the UK Center for Ecology and Hydrology has found that nature-friendly farming methods increase biodiversity without reducing average yields.

Scientists have spent a decade intensively monitoring the impacts of a large government-funded experiment at Hillesden, a 1,000 hectare commercial agricultural farm in Buckinghamshire. As of 2005, this involved creating various wildlife habitats, including seed plants for birds, wildflowers for pollinators, and margins of bushy grass to support a variety of birds, insects, and small mammals.

In the longest study of its kind, researchers were able to increase the amount of wildlife essential to agricultural production, such as pollinators and predators of crop pests. Numbers of some butterfly species, including the Guardian and Green-veined White, doubled, and birds that usually feed on insects benefited from the shelter provided by hedges and grass borders, including the great tit, with an increase of 88%, and blue tit, with an increase of 73%.

They also found that overall yields in Hillesden were maintained and improved for some crops, despite loss of farmland due to habitat creation. Areas left out of production were difficult and unproductive to cultivate, and other areas benefited from increased numbers of pollinators and pest-feeding birds and insects.


Policy Against Farmers

This runs counter to claims by many politicians that new post-Brexit agri-environment schemes would “pay farmers to produce less food” and harm food security. Rishi Sunak, the former foreign minister currently running for prime minister, recently said he would “stop” farmers from rebuilding their land for nature.

Jake Fiennes, conservation manager at Holkham Estate in Norfolk and author of the organic farming book Land Healer, said he was not surprised by the report’s findings.

He told the Guardian: “Historical policies in England have tried to get us to produce food everywhere. But now we realize that we can increase our average yield by not growing food on land that is not productive, and in those areas we can make room for nature. We know there are benefits to having more nature on the farm, we know we can improve farm biodiversity without affecting yields.

Fiennes said, “Take a field. If you have forest on the southern edge of this field, invariably the first 15-20 meters from that edge will not produce the average yield, they will produce up to 50% of the average. But when you have all the species that could benefit from that edge of wood, it’s a no-brainer to give it to nature. This is the poorest land for food production, and when you don’t focus on this area, you increase your average yield on the rest of the field.

“We know we have a biodiversity crisis, we know we have a climate crisis, we know the two are linked, and this is an opportunity to increase our yields and take care of nature.”

Organic farming improves biodiversity and crop yields

Dr John Redhead of the UK Center for Ecology and Hydrology and lead author of the research published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, said: “Studying changes in populations over a significant period of time and comparing them with d ‘other sites means we can be confident. that agri-environmental options can bring long-term benefits to bird and butterfly populations.

“Hillesden is a typical large arable farm with conventional farming practices, in an ordinary landscape without large patches of natural habitat. Therefore, the results of our long-term study are likely to indicate what can be achieved on the other hand. other commercial farms with good planning, implementation and management of agri-environmental measures.

By Helen Horton. Articles in English

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