May 11, 2008 Eco-friendly plant and animal life have been thriving in intensively managed cereal farms alongside increasing crop yields, according to the first study of its kind.
The analysis of 230 farms by researchers from The Universities of Manchester and Cambridge shows that Government and EU policies which subsidise farmers to protect the environment are - at least to some degree - working.
The findings challenge critics of modern farming who argue that intensive methods such as mechanical ploughing, crop spraying and mechanisation are not compatible with biodiversity conservation.
Economist Dr Noel Russell from The University of Manchester says that farms with higher yields tend to have higher levels beneficial insects, birds, mammals and fungi - though levels are still low.
Eco-friendly species are able to pollinate crops, improve the soil, control pests and other factors to increase crop yields.
Wheat is the most dominant UK cereal crop occupying over 18 per cent of the total land on agricultural holdings in England followed next by Barley.
Dr Russell, who is based at the School of Social Sciences, said: “Our analysis shows that higher yielding more intensive farms are not necessarily those that are doing most damage to ecological habitats in the countryside.
“Many farmers have been willing to reinvest - or forgo - some of their profits to conserve and improve biodiversity and that has born fruit according to our findings.
“This means the natural benefits of some of our plant and animal life to wheat, barley and other types of cereal farming need not be compromised by modern agriculture.
“The improvement is roughly in line with when the Government launched its environmental stewardship schemes and the EU re-launched its common agricultural policy.
“This indicates that Government and EU policies - as well as the activities of farmers - are working.”
He added: “The results show that many farmers have been successfully using high-yielding sustainable technologies.
“These include conservation headlands, buffer strips along intensively managed fields or beside streams or ponds, beetle banks, skylark plots and precautions against soil erosion.”
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