Land Use Change
Changes to the way land is used can drive biodiversity loss.
What’s going on?
For generations, agriculture has changed land across the UK.
Loss of forest and woodland space to open up more agricultural and farming spaces in the UK has led to the loss of established trees and shrubs and habitats for animals, birds, insects and pollinators. It also reduced natural ground cover and shelter for animals.
Specialisation of plant and animal production have left the natural variety and patterns of growth stripped away, with a significant impact on biodiversity.
Change in land use via common farming practices can also adversely impact on soil – weakening and depleting it, making it more vulnerable to run off and soil erosion.
Removal of natural resources – such as through the redesign of natural water sources, and cosmetic changes – such as over-trimming hedges during key seasons or removing new growth – can make the negative impact of land use change on nature and biodiversity worse.
Every time a field is ploughed, the worm count is damaged.[i] With repeat ploughing, the worm population can be reduced by up to 70%.[ii]
72% of the UK landscape can be classed as agriculture – 40% of the UK is arable fields.[iii]
The UK’s woodland cover has more than doubled in the last 100 years, but much of this is non-native trees. Existing native woodlands are isolated, in poor ecological condition and there has been a decline in woodland wildlife.
Agriculture has been identified as the most important driver of biodiversity change over the past 45 years, with most effects being negative.[iv]
Get nature positive
UK farmers reversing harm caused by land use change are doing so with nature positive actions such as leaving grasses wild and unmown until autumn, expanding native woodlands, increasing hedgerow protection, diversifying crops, and providing pollinator habitat.
Even small changes can achieve a significant nature positive impact.
Biodiversity-boosting impacts – from healthier soil and landscape to increased pollinator diversity and abundance – have clear business benefits for farmers. Enhanced natural nutrients, for example, can help reduce the need for costly agrochemicals.
From 2022 in England, the Sustainable Farming Incentive scheme will offer two soils standards: an arable and horticultural soils standard and an improved grassland soils standard.
Through signing up to these standards, farmers will be rewarded for management practices that improve soil health by improving soil structure, soil organic matter, and soil biology. Farmers will undertake actions to maintain and improve the condition and structure of their soil to promote clean water, and improve climate resilience, biodiversity, and food production.
Inspired by steps some farmers and other land managers are already taking we’ve compiled suggested actions to help you on your journey to getting nature positive.
[ii] Edwards C.A., Lofty J.R. (1977) Effects of agriculture on earthworm populations. In: Biology of Earthworms. Springer, Boston, MA.