The aesthetic value of organic farming
Nik Darlington - 23 September 2011
Research published in 2003 by a team of Swedish ecologists demonstrated a signifcant increase in the richness and abundance of butterfly species on organically farmed land and its (non-organic) surroundings. Further analysis in 2005 found that wild flora and fauna are on average 50 per cent more abundant where there is organic farming.
More recently in 2010 a team of ecologists from the Universities of Leeds and York discovered an overall 12 per cent increase in biodiversity on organic farmland. Again, the research confirmed that conventional farms share the benefits of organic farming, although the impact is greatest on landscapes holding higher proportions of organic farmland.
In recent decades, the UK has suffered a precipitous decline in wildlife biodiversity. Half of the country’s native butterfly species are seriously threatened. Last year, one of the UK’s most endangered butterflies, the Lulworth Skipper, and one of our most common varieties, the Meadow Brown, had their worst years on record.
The weakening of biodiversity, alongside intensive agricultural systems, can have a detrimental impact on landscape.
Organic farming maintains hedgerows and field boundaries, which act as havens for wildlife, especially birds, butterflies and wild flowers. Moreover, these bucolic borders are the stitches on the quilt of Britain’s landscape. They hold the rural fabric together – biologically and aesthetically.
Organic farming cannot only better feed Britain’s biotas and Britain’s bellies – it can better feed our inner senses. Francis Hutcheson wrote in the 18th century that beauty is disclosed by an innate ‘sixth sense’ – subjective, perhaps, but universal. Aesthetic experience is immutable and a human truth. Edmund Burke boldly endeavoured to reduce aesthetics to analytical attributes. No, said Kant, a rose is beautiful because it is a rose. Free from linguistic strictures, the sublime and the beautiful are sensibilities intrinsically held.
We cannot clothe the entire countryside in organic farmland. ‘Conventional’ agriculture shall bear the brunt of food production for the foreseeable future. But we have learned from the science that even small proportions of organic farmland can keep the great British landscape a living work of art.