The latest report on the state of the UK’s Nature shows that 41% of species have declined in abundance since 1970. State of Nature 2019, following previous reports in 2013 and 2016, produced by a partnership of conservation NGOs, research institutes, UK and national governments and thousands of volunteers, highlights that 15% of species are under threat of extinction. It’s clear that urgent action is required.
The key pressures are identified as:
- Agricultural productivity, linked to the intensification of land management and the decline in farmland nature which is still increasing – although with government funding some farmers have adopted wildlife‑friendly farming.
- Climate change – there has been an increase in average UK temperatures by nearly 1°C since the 1980s.
- Legislation has reduced emissions from many pollutants but levels are still harmful.
- Pressure for development of thousands of hectares of woodland, farmland and wetland every year.
There are also threats from:
- hydrological change (conversion of wetlands);
- INNS (Invasive Non-Native Species); and
- woodland management.
Populations of farmland birds have more than halved on average (a 54% decline) since 1970. Wildlife friendly farming and agri-environment schemes (AES) have helped to slow this decline but not sufficiently to halt and reverse the trend. Agricultural productivity has increased by 150% since 1973 and while there are now three million hectares under AES (about a third of agricultural land) there has also been a recent decline in the area of land under higher-level AES.
The report highlights that although one of the mechanisms for mitigating the negative impacts of agriculture is through environmentally sustainable farming practices, research indicates that the key factor for some species is the need for remedial action at a co-ordinated landscape scale sufficient to make a real difference. The point here is that the way we farm across the country matters.
The Soil Association has said that wildlife is 50% more abundant on organic compared to conventional farms. For biodynamic farms, increasing and respecting wildlife is a crucial part of the farming approach. Demeter certification requires that 10% of the total farm area of biodynamic farms should be a biodiversity reserve. Biodynamic farms aim to be self-sustaining organisms in their own right with a diversity of elements providing mutual support rather than buying in feed or fertility for example.
A 21-year study by FiBL (the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture in Switzerland) found that biodynamic/organic methods enhance soil fertility and biodiversity. The plots had 50% lower inputs but only 20% lower yield, had 25% more soil micro-organisms and exhibited higher long-term soil fertility, compared to the conventional plots. The study also found that farming in this way could help mitigate climate change. Long-term organically farmed soils emitted 40% less greenhouse gases per hectare than conventionally farmed soils, with the biodynamic systems having the lowest nitrous oxide emissions. If we consider this together with the recent Bonterra study which found that vineyards where the biodynamic preparations had been applied stored 12.8% more soil organic carbon than the conventionally farmed control vineyard, then in terms of seeking to address two of the main pressures affecting our wildlife populations, namely agricultural management and climate change, it is clear that biodynamic farming and growing has a key role to play.
The clear indication is that Nature needs more biodynamic land!