The UK’s biodiversity crash

| 15th March 2019
soil association
The UK government will launch a global and national review into the link between biodiversity and economic growth.

With 50 percent more wildlife on organic farms and the recent ‘Ten Years for Agroecology’ study showing that agroecological farming can produce enough healthy food for Europe’s growing population, while phasing out pesticides and radically reducing greenhouse gases – it’s never been clearer that the government should to support this sort of farming.

Chancellor Philip Hammond announced in his Spring Statement this week that the government will launch a global and national review into the link between biodiversity and economic growth. This is welcome news.

We urgently need to take action to halt the UK’s biodiversity crash and it is essential that the government incentivises nature-friendly food and farming practices to achieve that.

Recent reports have shown massive declines in wildlife globally with humanity displacing 60 percent of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970 and a steep decline in global insect populations linked to pesticide use threatening all our ecosystems.

Agroecological farming

Despite this, the UK is currently failing on 14 out of 19 global targets on biodiversity and a report by the Natural Capital Committee concluded that only half of our habitats meet minimum quality targets set by Natural England, with bees, butterflies, and farmland birds and bats either continuing to decline or stagnating in numbers.

Many farmers are working hard to support biodiversity, but more robust incentives from Government are needed.

The review Hammond announced is set to determine the most cost-effective and environmentally sustainable interventions that could be taken to protect nature – and agroecological techniques, such as organic and agroforestry, must form part of the solution.

It’s never been clearer that the government should to support this sort of farming, with 50 percent more wildlife on organic farms, while the recent ‘Ten Years for Agroecology’ study showed that agroecological farming can produce enough healthy food for Europe’s growing population, while phasing out pesticides and radically reducing greenhouse gases.

This renewed focus on biodiversity should prompt the Government to ask whether the Agriculture Bill and Environment Bills are up to the task. We’re concerned that there is no explicit support for agroecology within the Agriculture Bill and that soil health and pesticide reduction have not been included in the metrics underpinning the Environment Bill. These must both be remedied.

The environmental issues we face are complex. They cannot simply be reduced to working out the financial value of boosting wildlife. The review into the link between biodiversity and economic growth will be an important contribution if it stimulates government support for nature-friendly farming systems. The cost of doing nothing will be far greater.

The Author

Rob Percival is head of policy (food and health) at the Soil Association.

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