Policy should support diverse land management that delivers for both people and nature, urge SSRP researchers
By: Amy Sweet
Last updated: Friday, 19 March 2021
University of Sussex experts have urged policy makers to support diverse land use management to meet the diverse needs and values of people and nature simultaneously.
The United Nations (UN) recently declared 2021-2030 as the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration to help tackle the challenges of nature conservation, food security and climate change. However, two of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that regularly come into conflict are SDG 2 ‘Zero Hunger’ and SDG 15 ‘Life on Land’ because agriculture and conservation compete for land.
Recent research funded by the Sussex Sustainability Research Programme (SSRP) sought to understand more about this conflict, by exploring the trade-offs between meat production, biodiversity conservation, and wider ecosystem service provision on agricultural and nature conservation sites in South East England. In particular, it investigated the potential role of large herbivores – such as cows and deer – within conservation agricultural practices in providing benefits to both people and nature.
This innovative interdisciplinary research incorporated ecological techniques conducted by ecologists Dr Christopher Sandom and Dr Nicholas Balfour in the School of Life Sciences, and combined these with methods conducted by social scientists Dr Rachael Durrant and Dr Adrian Ely at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) in the University of Sussex Business School.
The research showed that different forms of land management for food production and nature conservation could support the delivery of a range of environmental public goods and services. Furthermore, it emphasised that a variety of land management approaches are needed to provide for the diverse needs of people and nature within shared landscapes.
Agro-ecological farming was a particularly effective multi-purpose land management option, as it provides agricultural goods, recreational spaces, and habitats for a range of wildlife. Of particular note was one of the agro-ecological farms, Tablehurst Farm in East Sussex, which produced the most red meat and was amongst the best performing sites for biodiversity.
Principle Investigator and Senior Lecturer in Biology, Dr Christopher Sandom says:
“Our landscapes have become very uniform. If we want our landscapes to produce good food, capture carbon, lessen flooding, provide a home for all plants and animals, get people with different interests connected to nature, and much more, then the recovery of our landscapes needs to bring diversity back. We need to celebrate and support people’s, place’s, and nature’s diversity when it comes to land management.”
Based on their research, published in People and Nature last month, the project team have written a Policy Brief for Parliamentarians, which recommends diverse and wildlife-friendly land, and livestock management approaches to benefit both people and nature.
In the lead up to leaving the EU, last November the Agricultural Act 2020 was approved. This new Act will allow farmers and land owners to access payments under newly created Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMs) to manage land in a way that protects the environment, conserves plants and native livestock, improves soil, adapts to, and protects against, climate change and environmental hazards.
The UN commitments to ecosystem restoration and the SDGs coupled with new national priorities present a unique opportunity to enhance efforts to support biodiversity conservation and good food production. The policy brief provides three key recommendations for decision-makers:
- National government should explicitly take small-scale and mixed farming systems into account in the design and implementation of the Agriculture Act 2020, the Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMs), as well as the Environment Bill, and the forthcoming National Food Strategy due to the potential for delivering environmental public goods and producing food simultaneously.
- Local Authorities should support planning that fosters a greater diversity of land uses. Alongside initiatives to increase the vegetable and fruit (as opposed to meat) content of diets, strategies should be put in place to support the development of agroecological food supply chains and develop diverse strategies for conserving nature on public estates.
- Engagement with land managers and relevant stakeholders is essential to understand the options for ecosystem restoration and to assess the extent to which such restoration efforts will deliver benefits to both people and nature.
Sandom says: “The UK is at a critical moment in the development of agricultural and environmental policies to ensure all the needs of people and nature are met, including food security and environmental recovery post-Brexit. The failure to adopt diverse land management systems that deliver benefits for people and nature would risk missing an important opportunity for a sustainable and productive British countryside.”
Read the policy brief: ‘Diverse land use delivering diverse benefits’
Find out more about the Sussex Sustainability Research Programme (SSRP) and this SSRP research project: ‘Delivering food security and biodiversity conservation through rewilding and community agriculture?’ and the published paper:
Balfour, N.J., Durrant, R., Ely, A. and Sandom, C.J. (2021) ‘People, Nature and large Herbivores in a shared landscape: A mixed-method study of the ecological and social outcomes from agriculture and conservation’. People Nat. 2021; 00:1–13. https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10182