Corn bunting perched amongst the hedgerow branches, singing

Land use and nature

Nature is paying the price for intensive farming.

Land use and nature

Corn Bunting-call

All land in the UK has been altered by humans. Farmland covers 70% of the UK and has a direct impact on the health of rivers, the quality of the air we breathe and the wildlife that lives among our hedgerows, crops and woodlands. Land for food, timber, recreation, and climate change measures such as tree planting have competing needs and we must make sure the trade-offs don’t endanger wildlife.

Intensive farming

A blue cloudy sky above fields of bright yellow wheat, lined with tree borders

Since WW2 government policies encouraged intensive farming techniques to boost crop yields – at the expense of our natural world and farmers. Intensive farming takes an industrial approach using high levels of artificial fertiliser and pesticides to maximise yields at the expense of the health of soils, wildlife and landscapes.

 

For the last 50 years populations of farmland birds, butterflies and bees have plummeted. Farming contributes 10% of our greenhouse gas emissions and is a key driver of poor air and water quality. This is bad for farming too as without pollinators, healthy soils and a stable climate, crops will fail.

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Growing together

Cirl bunting sat among blades of green grass, looking at the camera

New schemes were introduced in 1992 to soften the impact of intensive farming on nature. We now have much better understanding of what can be done to restore nature and are working with farmers to turn around the fortunes of our farmland species. These schemes have seen successes such as the cirl bunting project in South Devon led by the RSPB which hits its target of 1,000 pairs four years early. But more work is needed to build programmes which reward nature friendly farming.

What's next?

Adult Lapwing feeding in wet meadow at Elmley Marsh RSPB reserve.

Following the vote to leave the EU, the four nations of the UK can develop their own agricultural policies. It is vital that each country uses this opportunity to develop strategies that enable farmers and land managers to play a critical role in tackling the nature and climate crises.