Even though organic methods may increase farm biodiversity, a combination of conventional farming and protected areas could sometimes be a better way to maintain food production and protect wildlife.
The findings come from a study of butterfly populations in UK landscapes by scientists at the Universities of Leeds and York. They found that organic farms have more butterflies than conventional farms, but that a conventional farm plus an area specifically managed for wildlife could support more butterflies, and produce the same amount of food, from the same area of land. However, the wildlife area would have to be similar in quality to a nature reserve, rather than similar to an uncultivated field margin.
The study is the first to seek to establish the trade-off between the most efficient use of farmland and the most effective way to conserve wildlife in our countryside and has important implications for how agricultural land in the UK should be managed
The research, which involved scientists from the Institute of Integrative and Comparative Biology, at the University of Leeds, and the Department of Biology at the University of York, is published in the online edition of Ecology Letters.
Author Prof. Bill Kunin of the University of Leeds says: "It's not enough to know how much biodiversity an agricultural field supports, we also need to know how much food it produces. If 'sharing' our farmland with wildlife means that more total land will be taken into production to produce our food, then there may be a hidden cost of hurting wildlife somewhere else."
The scientists measured the density and numbers of species of butterflies in organic farms, conventional farms and grassland nature reserves in 16 locations in the South of England, the Midlands and Yorkshire. They used butterflies as a wildlife example because of their sensitivity to small-scale habitat change, and focused on winter cereal and pasture fields becau
|Contact: David Garner|
University of York