A single sheep in honey-brown fields of summer grass

Food and nature

How to create a nature friendly farming system

Food and nature

A combine harvester cuts hay from a golden-brown field

The way our food is produced changed dramatically over the last century. After WW2 there was a drive to increase food production, mostly through payments from the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). But this came at a huge cost to wildlife and drove unsustainable practices. Now the UK has left CAP we have the opportunity to better reward nature friendly farming. We also need to ensure farmers get a fair price for their food.

What is nature friendly farming?

A herd of sheep is stood in front of the camera, looking directly at the photography

A nature friendly farming system is not only sustainable but also contributes to the restoration of wildlife populations. For example, it might involve low intensity grazing on less productive land – like our Haweswater reserve. Or it might look more like the RSPB's Hope Farm in Cambridgeshire where we pursue high yields but in a nature friendly way to minimise the amount of land which needs to be farmed overall.

What is nature friendly food?

Cattle at sunset | The RSPB

We need to think about the food system as a whole and its impact on nature. In recent years growing demand for meat has damaged habitats and increased greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture is responsible for one third of global emissions, half of which comes from livestock. Yet livestock are important for habitat management and soil health. We need to get the balance right, greater uptake of healthy and sustainable diets is essential to reversing farmland nature declines.

What can I do?

RSPB organic farm at Lake Vyrnwy, Shropshire, Wales

What we buy can and does influence how our countryside and the seas are managed. Growing demand for more sustainable products has led to a rapid increase in brands which claim higher environmental standards. Certification schemes such as Fair to Nature or organic shows food has been produced in a more nature friendly way. Look for their labels when shopping or buy direct from producers whose values you share.

Why does food security matter?

A tractor ploughing through golden wheat

The global population is increasing but the changing climate is making supplies less predictable. We are already using most of the available agricultural land and clearing more area has catastrophic effects on wildlife and the climate. We need a food system that can produce healthy food now and in the future to feed us well and safeguard nature. Food security is often just seen as the need to increase yields, but it is about so much more than increasing production – for example sustainability, affordability and nutrition are also important.

What is wrong with our food system?

A sparrow perched on a wooden post in front of a tractor

In addition to the toll on wildlife, our food system is not serving people well. Although enough food is produced to feed everyone, around 1 in 8 people are chronically undernourished and yet others are suffering from disease linked to over-consumption. There is enough food current produced to feed more that the current global population and we waste up to 50% of the food produced. We need to do things differently.

What is the solution?

Focusing on intensive production is not the answer to global hunger and brings with it huge environmental problems. We need to radically reshape our food system to promote sustainable and healthy diets underpinned by sustainable, nature and climate friendly food production. Farming systems which pollute water, damage soil health and drive species to extinction will only make food more costly and difficult to grow in the long run.