Environmental Stewardship and food security
Field margin on farm managed under Environmental Stewardship
A new report commissioned by Natural England, Ecosystem services from Environmental Stewardship that benefit agricultural production, assesses the role of Environmental Stewardship in protecting the environment and agricultural food production. The report:
- Shows how Environmental Stewardship schemes can help protect soil and water, regulate pest species and improve pollination, which in turn helps support crop production;
- Reinforces the key role farmers and land managers in Environmental Stewardship play in enhancing the natural environment without compromising their ability to produce food;
- For the first time, maps the distribution of the major ecosystems services provided by Environmental Stewardship options.
Providing ecocsystem services
The report found that Environmental Stewardship schemes – which provide funding to farmers and other land managers in England to deliver effective environmental management on their land – are delivering a range of vital goods and services, known as ecosystem services – which benefit the natural environment and in doing so help sustain and develop agricultural productivity.
Ecosystem services are defined as the benefits society gets from the natural environment, including cultural services such as the conservation of biodiversity and people’s enjoyment of the countryside, regulating services, such as flood protection, clean air and water and provisioning services such as the production of food, timber and other resources. Many of these services are provided by agricultural land. While farmers are rewarded for the provisioning services by the market, Environmental Stewardship is a major source of funding that helps farmers maintain and enhance the cultural and regulatory services that their land provides.
The Natural Environment White Paper identified the need to increase food production whilst protecting, enhancing and linking biodiversity and landscapes. To meet this challenge, land managers need to have a better understanding of the complex relationships between the different ecosystem services that farmland can potentially provide. This research was commissioned from the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) to identify the ecosystem services which Environmental Stewardship helps to provide as the main agri-environment scheme in England.
Supporting food production
The research found many examples of how ecosystem services supported by Environmental Stewardship contribute to food production, including:
- Pollination services are provided by many Environmental Stewardship options, with those delivering early pollen and nectar sources and season-long floral resources particularly important. Farms under organic management are likely to deliver more for bumblebees due to the legume content of rotational grassland;
- Control of pest species by natural enemies is encouraged by Environmental Stewardship options supporting hedgerows, flower margins, species-rich grassland and beetle banks;
- Conservation of genetic resources is supported by options such as traditional orchard and species-rich grassland management, as well as native breed supplements;
- Converting land to grassland benefits microscopic soil animals which improve soil organic matter content, while options where legumes are sown increase soil nitrogen, organic matter and soil wildlife.
Ian Fugler, Land Management Director for Natural England, described the importance of Environmental Stewardship to food security and the environment:
“Long-term food security and a healthy natural environment are inextricably linked. This report highlights how Environmental Stewardship supports the important role farmers play both in putting food on the table and providing a whole range of vital goods and services – protecting wildlife, managing water, storing carbon, looking after woodlands and hedgerows, and planting new ones, and shaping much-loved landscapes for people to explore and enjoy”.
- Ecosystem services from Environmental Stewardship that benefit agricultural production: full report available to download
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