An invitation to shape the nature of England

Defra have asked the public to contribute ideas to its first White Paper on the natural environment in 20 years. Due to be published in Spring 2011, the White Paper is intended to outline the Government’s priorities for the natural environment, setting out a framework for practical action by Government, communities, businesses and civil society.

The consultation has now closed, but you can read the Soil Association’s response. The Soil Association has two particular concerns it would like Defra to consider:

Action on reversing the decline of wildlife in the countryside

  • The latest statistics show that farmland bird populations in the UK continue to decline and are now 53% lower than the starting value in 1966.
  • Organic farms play an important role in helping wildlife. There is now scientific evidence to show the biodiversity and wider environmental benefits of organic farming systems compared to conventional system.
  • For example, in 2005, a literature review of 66 published studies that compared organic and non-organic farming systems, concluded that on average wildlife is 50% more abundant on organic farms and there are 30% more species, than on non-organic farms.

The challenge of living in a resource-constrained world

  • As well as the challenges of climate change and population growth identified in Defra’s paper, the reality is that we are now living in a resource-constrained world. As well as water shortages, it would be great if you could draw attention to the issues of peak oil and peak phosphorus and our ability to produce food sustainably, and ultimately how that will affect the natural environment.
  • The concept of ‘Peak oil’ is now widely recognised. On top of increasing the costs of food transportation and operating farm machinery, increases in the price of oil have already pushed up the cost of nitrogen fertiliser. All these forces can push up the price of food.
  • The concept of ‘Peak phosphorus’ is less well known. The supply of phosphorus from mined phosphate rock could ‘peak’ as soon as 2033, after which this non-renewable resource will become increasingly scarce and expensive.  Thus, we are facing the end of cheap and readily-available phosphate fertiliser on which intensive agriculture is totally dependent. The impact of this is likely to be an increase in the price of food.
     
  • Read our response in full
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