Efforts to increase farm productivity while supporting wildlife and the environment have been given a boost through the launch of a substantial £4.5 million Defra-funded research initiative that will bring together expertise from across the farming industry and research community in England and Wales in order to ensure a more sustainable farming sector in the future.
Involving more than 30 organisations, including charities, universities, research organisations, government agencies and industry, the Sustainable Intensification Research Platform (SIP) aims to draw together the necessary research knowledge and expertise to deliver a more cohesive approach to managing profitable farming while boosting biodiversity, improving resource use, alleviating flood risk and mitigating greenhouse gasses and pollution.
Once seen as the poor relation to other industries, there has been a massive sea-change in the way that the food and farming sector is now viewed, especially as it provides more than £100 billion to the UK’s GDP. The agriculture sector alone represents more than £7 billion.
However, government ministers are aware that although agriculture gives huge value it also presents big challenges.
Speaking at the launch of the SIP, Shirley Trundle, Defra’s Director of Sustainable Land Management said, “Ministers have high aspirations for the food and farming sector which is proving to be so innovative and successful. We are also much better at understanding the risks as well as the value that we get from this essential sector. As an example, pollination services are valued at £430 million per year, while soil degradation from farming practices cost us about £0.9 to 1.4 billion per year. We have also seen a 50 per cent decline in the farmland bird index in the past 40 years.
“These are a complex set of problems and we have created the Sustainable Intensification Platform, to help address these policy challenges. It is the start of a very exciting journey that is investing in an ambitious research and development programme that will lead to more sustainable farming practices in the future.”
Working in collaboration with other research partners, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Allerton Project farm at Loddington in Leicestershire has been selected as one of the five main research study farms across England and Wales as part of this £4.5 million Defra funded research initiative.
Professor Chris Stoate, Head of Research at the Allerton Project, explains the GWCT’s research involvement and said, “Our part of this initiative will build on our existing research, which covers a combination of farm and landscape scale studies that focus on research topics such as soil management, water quality, wildlife habitats, farmland birds, as well as efficient management of crops for food. We are delighted to have been chosen as one of the research centres. This decision follows a lengthy and highly competitive selection process and is a testament to our pioneering research at a range of scales over the past two decades.”
The GWCT’s Allerton Project is renowned for its innovative research solutions, which combine wildlife conservation, commercial farming, research, demonstration and community engagement.
Farming Minister George Eustice said, “Supporting our farmers to become more productive whilst also protecting and improving the UK countryside is one of this government’s priorities.
“The £4.5 million we are giving to these research organisations will help open up new opportunities for intensive sustainable farming; boosting our farmers output in a way that safeguards the future of our environment.”
Photocaption: The GWCT's Allerton project is one of the partners in the new Defra-funded Sustainable Intensification Research Platform. Pictured a view of the mixed arable and livestock farm where a wide range of research has been carried out over more than twenty years.
Notes to editors:
List of all Sustainable Intensification Platform Partners – More than 30 organisations are involved in the Sustainable Intensification Platform research project, which is being led by: NIAB, and Exeter University and includes research institutions such the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Allerton Project farm, North Wyke Farm, Morley, Nafferton Farm and Henfaes Farm as well as the universities of Nottingham and Bangor together with ADAS, Rothamsted Research, CEH and FERA.
About the Sustainable Intensification Platform
- Sustainable intensification of farming offers the prospect of simultaneously increasing farm output and competitiveness, whilst improving and protecting the environment.
- Defra’s £4.5m Sustainable Intensification Platform brings together expertise from across the farming industry and research community in England and Wales. Together, farmers, academics and industry experts will undertake research into the opportunities for sustainable intensification at farm, landscape and market supply chain level.
- The Sustainable Intensification Platform will provide tools and demonstrate approaches to help farmers to take individual or collective actions to benefit their businesses and the environment.
- SIP will not focus on single sectors nor will it prioritise specific end goals such as maximised yields or maximised ecosystem services. It will adopt a holistic approach that considers various farm types, sectors and landscapes across England and Wales, and consider a range of economic, social and environmental indicators whilst investigating drivers and barriers to change.
- The evidence yielded by SIP, will help Defra design policy that incentivises and supports the sustainable intensification of agriculture.
- Three research consortia, including over 30 organisations, will investigate the following topics, with initial work-packages shown below:
Project 1) Integrated farm management for improved economic, environmental and social performance (led by NIAB);
Project 2) Opportunities and risks for farming and the environment at landscape scales (led by the University of Exeter), and;
Project 3) Scoping study: the influence of external drivers & actors on the sustainability & productivity of English and Welsh farming (led by ADAS).
The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) is an independent wildlife conservation charity which has carried out scientific research into Britain’s game and wildlife since the 1930s. We advise farmers and landowners on improving wildlife habitats and we lobby for agricultural and conservation policies based on science. We employ 14 post-doctoral scientists and 50 other research staff with expertise in areas such as birds, insects, mammals, farming, fish and statistics. We undertake our own research as well as projects funded by contract and grant-aid from Government and private bodies. The Trust is also responsible for a number of Government Biodiversity Action Plan species and is lead partner for grey partridge and joint lead partner for brown hare and black grouse. For Information, contact: Morag Walker – Head of Media, Telephone – 01425-652381 (direct 01425-651000) Mobile – 07736-124097 www.gwct.org.uk
GWCT’s Allerton Project farm, Loddington, Leicestershire - Farmland ecology research in the 1970s and 1980s carried out by the Trust has resulted in the majority of wildlife enhancing measures that we now see in today’s agri-environment schemes. The Trust’s 333 ha Allerton Project at Loddington is a mixed arable and livestock farm that is unique within the UK in having developed a wide range of practical ways of restoring wildlife and achieving broader environmental benefits, while integrating this approach into the farm business. The result of these environmentally friendly farming techniques is the dramatic increases in wild game, farmland birds and other wildlife. As well as research, the Trust runs a range of courses which aim to bring together the wider aspects of biodiversity and wildlife conservation to encapsulate all the important aspects of environmental management.