A vital chance for Britain's wildlife

Organic farms can play an important role in reversing the decline in a wide range of British species

A A A

Biodiversity is an important concern for UK environmentalists. The growth in large cities and mass farming methods has led to a marked reduction in a number of rare species, as well as causing previous common species to become rare. And while this is a problem which has existed for at least the last 30 years, methods of preserving biodiversity are still fairly piecemeal. Traditionally, conservationists have lobbied for certain areas of land to be protected against development, while government strategy includes paying farmers to leave part of their lands fallow.

Biodiversity is an important concern for UK environmentalists. The growth in large cities and mass farming methods has led to a marked reduction in a number of rare species, as well as causing previous common species to become rare. And while this is a problem which has existed for at least the last 30 years, methods of preserving biodiversity are still fairly piecemeal. Traditionally, conservationists have lobbied for certain areas of land to be protected against development, while government strategy includes paying farmers to leave part of their lands fallow.

In recent years, however, there has been a burgeoning suggestion that organic farms could be at least part of the solution to the problem. The evidence suggests that not only can farmed land avoid damaging the balance of biodiversity, it can play a highly effective role in maintaining UK wildlife.

Gundala Azeez is policy manager for the Soil Association. In 2000 she authored a report which was to change government practice in the support of organic farms. "We did a review of all the separate studies on biodiversity on organic farms," she says. "Until then there had been a number of different studies of different places, but no comprehensive analysis of a general view on the issue. The conclusion was that organic farming was beneficial for biodiversity."

So what is it about organic farms which makes them effective at preserving biodiversity? "Basically, organic farms do all the elements necessary to protect wildlife," says Azeez. "They don't use chemical herbicides, pesticides and fertilisers. But in addition they don't specialise in one crop to maximise profits in the way that conventional farms do. Organic farms have mixed crops, and this is very important for species such as birds, for example, who need both grassland and cereal crops to thrive."

The differences between the species supported by organically farmed land and those found on conventional farmland were documented by a joint report from the Soil Association and the WWF. This showed that as many as five times the number of wild plants grew on organic land, and many of these were either rare or declining. Three times as many non-pest butterflies were also identified in the crop edges. In addition rare birds such as lapwings were found on organic farms, nourished by the diverse species of insect which the land encouraged. Recent studies have also shown that bat populations have been recovering in number surrounding organic land, as bats - like birds - rely on insects as the bulk of their diet.

There are several reasons why these species flourish on organic land - with lack of pesticides forming only one component. On conventional farms, routine animal treatments such as worming treatments have a knock-on effect on the type of dung they produce. The result is to prevent certain varieties of dung beetle, which are important both for maintaining bird populations and for enriching the soil. In essence, the theme of biodiversity comes back to the traditional view of the food chain. If you alter or suppress one element of wildlife - even an undesirable pest - you affect the natural balance of the land.

However, it might be argued that modern methods of food production, quite laudably designed, ensure that our food supplies are constant. And as a rational but unfortunate adjunct, pesticides are necessary to combat the inevitable onslaught of pests which our methods of mass farming preclude. Not so, says Gundala Azeez, who has personally moved from cynic to a convert with respect to organic methods of pest control. "Organic farms use natural predators to control pests, which works surprisingly well. It might sound idealistic and romantic, but the system of using nature to balance pest problems is very effective.

"Organic farms plant certain wildlife and flowers which encourage species which are the natural predators of pests you want to avoid. We've had experts go round to farms who use this method to measure the level of wildlife, and the verdict has been that the pests are present, but they're kept under control by other species. The same is true of keeping chemicals out of the soil. If you encourage soils that are full of insects and other species, they act as natural predators for certain pests. And in addition the plant is getting all the extra nourishment from being rooted in biodiverse soil."

As a future method for maintaining UK biodiversity, organic farming is winning some strong support. On the strength of recent evidence, the Government has established its Organic Action Plan, aimed at encouraging organic farming methods. But perhaps the biggest victory for organics is the support of conservationists, who ironically have been hard to convince that a farming method could foster biodiversity. Determined campaigns from organic growers have gone a long way to convince conservation groups that organic farming is superior to set-aside schemes. As a result, organic farming is finally establishing itself a well-earned reputation as an environmental protectorate.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Tangerine Dream Edgar Froese
people
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
Life and Style
The Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew, at work creating the 'Dizzy' arcade-adventure games in 1988
techDocumentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Arts and Entertainment
Krall says: 'My hero player-singer is Elton John I used to listen to him as a child, every single record
music
News
Friends for life … some professionals think loneliness is more worrying than obesity
scienceSocial contact is good for our sense of wellbeing - but it's a myth that loneliness kills, say researchers
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
News
i100
Environment
Number so freshwater mussels in Cumbria have plummeted from up to three million in the 20th century to 500,000
environment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us