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Comparative review of the effects of organic farming on biodiversity (OF0149)

Gardner, Sarah M.; Brown, R. W. and R & D Associates, (1998) Comparative review of the effects of organic farming on biodiversity (OF0149). ADAS Consulting Ltd.

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Online at: http://www2.defra.gov.uk/research/project_data/More.asp?I=OF0149

Summary

This is the final report of Defra project OF0149
1. The report reviews the impact of different farming regimes and makes a comparative study of their influence on the biodiversity of arable farmland.
2. Within this review, the evaluation of impacts on biodiversity focuses on species and habitats, and includes both the number, abundance and activity of species (section 1.3).
3. Five farming regimes are defined and discussed, namely Conventional Arable, Conventional Mixed Lowland, Organic and two integrated production regimes - LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) and IFS-Experimental regimes The main differences between the regimes in relation to the use of external inputs and other agricultural practices are discussed. The review draws on both UK and European information (section 1.4).
4. The effect of each farming regime on biodiversity is assessed according to the agricultural practices adopted and to the occurrence and management of uncropped land present. Agricultural practices are reviewed within the following categories: cultivation, crop production, crop protection and post-cropping practice (section 2.1).
5. Among the agricultural practices examined, those associated with crop protection and the artificial inputs associated with crop production were seen as the most adverse for biodiversity. Several practices were seen to benefit the biodiversity of arable land. These included set-aside, crop rotations with grass leys, spring sowing, permanent pasture, green manuring and intercropping (section 2.7).
6. Uncropped areas, such as sown grass strips (beetle banks), grass margins and conservation headlands, were seen as critical for the maintenance of biodiversity on arable farmland. Changes in the balance of cropped to uncropped land within some farming regimes, linked to increase in field size, have had a major impact on the diversity of flora and fauna associated with those regimes (section 3.4).
7. Based on the evaluation of agricultural practices used, the occurrence of uncropped land and the extent of the farming regime within England and Wales, it was concluded that Conventional Arable regimes act effectively to maintain the impoverished status of biodiversity on arable land. Extreme examples can be found of intensively managed farms that further deplete biodiversity and sympathetically managed farms that try to enhance it. Increased adoption of agricultural practices such as direct drilling, use of farmyard manure, set-aside, use of crop rotations with leys, or an increase in the incidence and sympathetic management of uncropped areas may well assist biodiversity on farms within this regime (sections 4.3 & 4.4)
8. Organic regimes were shown to have an overall benefit for biodiversity at the farm level, both in terms of the agricultural practices adopted and in the occurrence and management of uncropped areas (sections 4.3 & 4.4).
9. Conventional Mixed Lowland and LEAF regimes were both seen to have the potential for enhancing biodiversity on arable land. Here, adverse impacts associated with crop protection and crop production may be mitigated by beneficial effects associated with post-cropping practices, the occurrence of permanent pasture and uncropped land. At present, the extent to which enhancement may be achieved, may well depend on the extent, condition and management of uncropped land present within these regimes (sections 4.3 & 4.4).
10. IFS-experimental regimes were seen to have a beneficial effect on biodiversity, due to the stringent procedures used for targeting herbicides and pesticides and for establishing and managing uncropped areas. At present these regimes occupy a tiny area of the national resource of arable land and thus their impact on national biodiversity is likely to be insignificant at the present time (sections 4.3 & 4.4).
11. A number of areas are highlighted for further consideration. These include:
• monitoring of biodiversity on farms pre- and post- conversion to organic farming,
• comparative studies that focus on the effectiveness of different regimes or agricultural practices in enhancing biodiversity on species-impoverished intensively managed arable land,
• manipulative experiments to determine the optimal balance of cropped to uncropped areas for enhancing biodiversity,
• manipulative experiments to examine the separate impacts of rotational regimes and agricultural inputs on biodiversity,
• an economic assessment of the costs and benefits in both production and biodiversity terms, of conversion to organic, integrated production or uptake of available agri-environment schemes.


EPrint Type:Report
Keywords:Farming systems, biodiversity, species, habitats, agri-environment, crop production, integrated pest management, LEAF, literature review, OF0149
Subjects: Farming Systems
Knowledge management > Research methodology and philosophy > Research communication and quality
Environmental aspects > Biodiversity and ecosystem services
Crop husbandry
Research affiliation: UK > ADAS
UK > Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
Deposited By: Defra, R&D Organic Programme
ID Code:8088
Deposited On:13 Apr 2006
Last Modified:12 Apr 2010 07:33
Document Language:English
Status:Published
Refereed:Not peer-reviewed

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