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(UK) Organic farms 'best for wildlife' August 04, 2005 7:34 AM

 

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/4740609.stm

Organic farms 'best for wildlife'
Organic farm
The organic farms tended to have smaller fields
Organic farms are better for wildlife than those run conventionally, according to a study covering 180 farms from Cornwall to Cumbria.

The organic farms were found to contain 85% more plant species, 33% more bats, 17% more spiders and 5% more birds.

Scientists - from Oxford University, the British Trust for Ornithology, and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology - spent five years on the research.

Funded by the government, it was the largest ever survey of organic farming.

"The exclusion of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers from organic is a fundamental difference between systems," the study says.

Other key differences found on the organic farms included smaller fields, more grasslands and hedges that are taller, thicker and on average 71% longer.

Dr Lisa Norton, of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said: "Hedges are full of native, berry-producing shrubs, which are great for insects and the birds and bats that feed on them."

A greater area of organically-managed land in the UK would help restore the farmland wildlife that has been lost from our countryside
Soil Association policy manager Gundula Azeez

Increased biodiversity was a "happy by-product" of sustainable farming practices and farmers working with "natural processes" to increase productivity, she added.

The fact the organic arable farms were more likely to have livestock on them also made them richer habitats for wildlife.

The study's lead author, British Trust for Ornithology habitat research director Dr Rob Fuller, told BBC News: "There were very large benefits right across the species spectrum."

The study had looked at a "very, very high" proportion of England's organic arable farms, he said.

More organic farming would help "restore biodiversity within agricultural landscapes", Dr Fuller added.

"Less than 3% of English farmland is organic so there is plenty of scope for an increase in area."

Soil Association policy manager Gundula Azeez said: "A greater area of organically-managed land in the UK would help restore the farmland wildlife that has been lost from our countryside in recent decades with intensive farming."


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Organic farmers make a difference for English wildlife August 04, 2005 7:49 AM

http://www.999today.com/science/story/1560.html


There is more grassland within organic farms and higher densities of hedges

There is more grassland within organic farms and higher densities of hedges

© Matt Collingwood

Organic farmers make a difference for English wildlife

Author: Rachel Sharp

3 Aug 2005

Scientists from leading UK institutions say organic farms provide greater benefits for a range of wildlife including wild flowers, beetles, spiders, birds and bats than their conventional counterparts.

Scientists from the British Trust for Ornithology (Thetford), the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (University of Oxford) have spent five years studying the differences between matched pairs of organic and non-organic cereal-producing farms in lowland England.

The study, published in the Royal Society Journal, showed that organic farming systems provide greater potential for biodiversity than their conventional counterparts, as a result of greater variability in habitats and more wildlife-friendly management practices, which resulted in real biodiversity benefits, particularly for plants.

Dr Lisa Norton of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology: "Organic farmers try to work with natural processes to increase productivity, using sustainable farming practices."

A huge amount of fieldwork was involved in the study - hedges were measured, beetles, spiders, birds and wildflowers were counted, farmers were questioned and bats were detected. Some of the significant results are:

Organic crops contain almost twice as many types of plant species (85% more).

There were more spiders (17% more), birds (5%) and bats (33%) too but the effects were not as significant as for plants.

There is more grassland within organic farms and higher densities of hedges. Fields are smaller and hedges thicker on organic farms. Organic farmers sow their crops later and cut their hedges less frequently.

Dr Rob Fuller, Director of Habitat Research for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), and lead author of the paper said: "Organic farms clearly have positive biodiversity effects for wild flowers. However, if they are to provide benefits on the same scale for species that need more space, like birds, we either need the farms to be larger or for neighbouring farms to be organic too. Currently, less than 3% of English farmland is organic so there is plenty of scope for an increase in area. Such an increase would help to restore biodiversity within agricultural landscapes."

Many previous studies that claim to demonstrate that organic farming benefits biodiversity are poorly designed, limited to one group of animals or plants, or local in scale. In this integrated study, covering 160 farms from Cornwall to Cumbria, the authors have shown that the organic farms supported higher numbers of species and overall abundance across most groups of plants and animals.

Dr Lisa Norton of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, who carried out the work on plants and interviewed a large number of the farmers involved in the study, said: "Organic farmers try to work with natural processes to increase productivity, using sustainable farming practices. Increased biodiversity is a happy by-product of this approach.

"For example, hedges on organic farms are kept in good stock-proof condition, as livestock are often an important part of the organic farming system. Typically, these stock-proof hedges are full of native, berry-producing shrubs, which are great for insects and the birds and bats that feed on them."

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