Current farming practices are unsustainable. They decimate biodiversity, increase flooding risks, pollute watercourses and produce few jobs for young people.
Meanwhile, farming subsidies are given on the basis of the agricultural readiness of the land rather than its productivity. But this is changing.
The UK Government's new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme is providing a long-term source of income to farmers who provide environmental benefits by changing their current methods.
Agroforestry is an agricultural system that does not rely on monocultures in order to be able to make a profit. The process involves growing different crops, allowing livestock to forage and practicing forestry in the same area, often at the same time. Advantages include:
- Enhancement of soil, water, air, animal and human resources.
- Enhancement of biodiversity (evidenced particularly well by silvopastoral systems in the UK).
- Increase carbon sequestration capacity.
- Diversify farm revenue streams (i.e. sale of new agricultural products, hosting activities such as pick-your-own fruit and vegetables, eco-tourism, ELM grants), increasing financial resilience.
- Stimulate deprived rural economies and create more jobs for younger people.
Agroforestry alone would not be enough to restore the habitat required for many of the animals in most need of conservation in the UK.
Biodiversity in the UK is in decline with many species’ populations falling. Umbrella species are those whose conservation indirectly benefits many other animals in its ecological community. Their presence serves as an indicator of a biodiverse environment. The high brown fritillary butterfly, the dormouse and the osprey are some of the most threatened species in the UK and can be used as umbrella species. Their disappearance from many of the landscapes they once inhabited is not unique but if some areas of land became suitable habitat for them, many other species would also return to these places. Biodiverse, productive farmland IS possible.