A flower-rich field margin. The flowers provide food and shelter for bees and butterflies, as well as other insects such as spiders, predatory ground beetles and parasitic wasps that are involved in natural pest control.

Nature’s harvest

25 February 2013

We live in a hungry world, and this will only increase. By the middle of the century, scientists estimate that global crop yields need to rise by 70 per cent. Richard Pywell and Ben Woodcock argue that supporting native wildlife on farms is part of the answer.

Population growth and changes in diets mean we urgently need to produce more food. The farming methods we already rely on may not be able to achieve this. The UK has signed the Convention on Biological Diversity, which requires that ‘by 2020 areas under agriculture, aquaculture and forestry are managed sustainably, ensuring conservation of biodiversity’.

But many native species have the potential to increase crop yields, so supporting biodiversity on farmland has more to offer farmers than simply beautifying the countryside. For example, bees pollinate crops, predatory beetles eat pest aphids, and wildflowers mean there’s more and better grass for livestock without the need for environmentally-damaging nitrogen fertilizers. Yet for biodiversity to benefit agriculture, our native plants and animals need careful husbandry within farmed landscapes.

Farmers have always been in a running battle with pests. We estimate that in 2010, UK crops worth £715 million were lost to insect pests. Pesticides are crucial to controlling them, but the development of pest resistance, key products being withdrawn from sale and fears about human and environmental health mean that alternative methods are increasingly important. One solution is to promote native biodiversity that will kill pests within crops.

Read more: Nature's harvest — Planet Earth Online.

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