Increased demand for agricultural products can lead to the over-exploitation of natural resources.
What’s going on?
Growing pressure on natural resources caused by increased demand for food is a threat to biodiversity.
The threat lies in the over-exploitation of resources – notably, water and land – which can result from the intensification of farming practices to increase yields. The loss of semi-natural habitats such as meadows, hedgerows, and fallows from farmland, for example, has negatively impacted birds, insects and mammals by depleting food resources and safe breeding sites.
Excessive use of nutrients – nitrogen and phosphates, especially – to maximise yields is another major biodiversity threat.
Overuse of fertilisers and pesticides risks depleting soil health. Soil left uncovered by intensified agriculture, meanwhile, can be more vulnerable to degradation. Increases in livestock numbers on many holdings and needing to bring in food resources have also contributed towards deforestation – historically in England and currently abroad.
Water extraction within the industry is another issue.
- In England and Wales, almost 4 million hectares of soil are at risk of compaction and over 2 million hectares of soil are at risk of erosion
- How farmers manage their land is critical to UK biodiversity as 72% of the UK’s land area is managed for agriculture – one third of which is arable, two thirds pastoral (grassland, moor and heath).[i]
- In England and Wales, intensive agriculture has caused arable soils to lose about 40 to 60% of their organic carbon
- Farmland birds have declined by 54% since 1970 and butterflies by 41% since 1976.[ii]
Get nature positive
Many UK farmers are working hard to ensure that they use the natural resources they need sustainably and efficiently.
We are seeing producers change the way they plant crops, with increased diversification and a renewed effort to keep soil covered to protect topsoil and encourage CO2 sequestration. With changes such as safeguarding water resources and restoring hedgerows, we are seeing water resources being protected and soil being nourished.
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.