Over-exploitation in farming is driven by how we use and treat land and animals.
What’s going on?
Modern farming is built on exploiting natural capital – the free ecosystems services that nature provides. Yet all too often, great successes in farming to meet increasing food needs have been developed without nature in mind.
Thanks to growing consumer demand – and cost pressures – nature’s free resources and services are all too often at risk of over-exploitation. And when this happens, there is a significant cost to nature and biodiversity.
The loss of semi-natural habitats such as meadows, hedgerows and fallows from farmland has negatively impacted farmland biodiversity, including birds, insects and mammals. This is largely due to the loss of food resources and safe breeding sites.
Excessive use of nutrients – nitrogen and phosphate, especially – to maximise yields is one major threat to biodiversity.
The overuse of fertilisers and pesticides has meant that soil health is depleted. Often, industrial arable and horticulture leaves soil uncovered, leaving it exposed, and without the crop rotation, grasses and coverage which secures nutrients and water under the surface, leave it vulnerable.
Excessive water extraction within the industry is another.
In meat, dairy and poultry farming, meanwhile, increased output has resulted in pockets of land unable to meet the needs of the volume of animal life they are expected to support. Over-grazed land is one example of this. The large areas of nature stripped to house industrial units to house animals and store feed is another.
Increases in animal stock numbers have also contributed towards deforestation as these animals rely on imported soy protein, and over-cropping to grow ever increasing amounts of fodder.
- 72% of the UK’s land area is managed for agriculture – one third of which is arable, two thirds pastoral (grassland, moor and heath). This makes how farmers manage their land critical to UK biodiversity.[i]
- While farmland birds have declined by 54% since 1970 and butterflies by 41% since 1976, bats have increased – by 23% since 1999.[ii]
Get nature positive
Ensuring that natural resources are used sustainably and efficiently, without over-exploitation, is a huge challenge that is now critical to address.
Already, attitudes have changed and an increasing proportion of the farming industry – who now see themselves as asset managers rather than just as miners of natural resources – are fighting for nature.
Changes made to how we sow or harvest – crop rotations, for example, diversifying instead of monocropping, and innovating to make feeding animals more nature positive – show how farming can lead the way in creating an industry that simultaneously works for nature, longevity and profit.
Inspired by steps agricultural companies are already taking, we’ve compiled suggested actions to help you on your journey to getting nature positive.