Organic farms boast 50 per cent more wildlife

ORGANIC farms support more plant, animal and insect species than conventional farms, scientists from Oxford University have found.

Researchers who looked at data spanning 30 years said the number of different pollinator species such as bees were 50 per cent higher on organic farms.

“Our study has shown that organic farming, as an alternative to conventional farming, can yield significant long-term benefits for biodiversity,” said Sean Tuck of Oxford University’s Department of Plant Sciences, lead author of the study.

“Organic methods could go some way towards halting the continued loss of diversity in industrialised nations.”

However, the university said it was important to note the study only looked at ‘species richness’.

“Species richness tells us how many different species there are but does not say anything about the total number of organisms,” added Mr Tuck.

“There are many ways to study biodiversity and species richness is easy to measure, providing a useful starting point. Broadly speaking, high species richness usually indicates a variety of species with different functions. Taking the example of bees, species richness would tell us how many different species of bee were on each farm but not the total number of bees.”

The study, published this week in the Journal of Applied Ecology, looked at data from 94 previous studies covering 184 farm sites dating back to 1989. The researchers re-analysed the data using satellite imagery to estimate the land use in the landscape surrounding each farm site to see if this had an impact on species richness.

The study was carried out by scientists at Oxford University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Science, and partly funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Soil Association policy officer Louise Payton said:  “We are suffering dramatic losses of wildlife all over the world so to know that organic farms have on average a third more species shows just how great a difference you can make by supporting organic agriculture and buying organic food.

“Our food systems are being threatened by the declines of bees and other pollinators - necessary for a third of the food that we eat. This research shows there is a clear solution for pollinators with a known outcome – support organic farming and we can have 50 per cent more species of pollinators in our countryside.”

However, Ms Payton said UK organic producers currently received the lowest CAP payments across the EU and urged the Government to ‘redress this balance’.

Readers' comments (3)

  • Shame so many people criticise the ethos of organic farming. Surely it's nearer to the environmental idyll needed to counter the depleting ways of the past 60-70 years.

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  • A very interesting article and it's noted that only species richness has been looked at here, but do we know whether this was where no specific measures were in place to promote biodiversity on the conventional farms? A recent University of Southampton study clearly shows that specific biodiverse habitats show an increase in bird populations over organic, which indicates that while organic measures clearly provide some benefit, specific habitats have the potential to provide more – irrespective of farming system. Ref: http://www.southampton.ac.uk/engineering/research/projects/conservation_farming.page?#publications

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  • As i grow older I find I am unable to eat any grains treated with pesticides.. so organic is the only way forward for my family... what damage has been done ? Science can argue and statistics can prove.. disprove both sides.. but you cant argue with reality.. as a family of six ..four cannot eat treated wheat/wheat products.. nature tells its own story we need to listen... Organic is the way forward..

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