http://www.soilassociation.org/Wildlife
Soil Association : Wildlife

Why are organic farms so much better for wildlife?

Over the last 50 years the UK has witnessed a steep decline in wildlife. One way to help reverse this is by supporting organic farming. Organic farms are havens for wildlife and provide homes for bees, birds and butterflies.

Organic farming depends on encouraging a diverse ecosystem to maintain soil fertility and to keep pests under control naturally. It does this by encouraging nature's own predators by maintaining hedgerows and creating open, 'wild' spaces at the side of fields, and changing the crops planted each season, to keep soil fertile and avoid the need for chemicals.

In non-organic farming around 31,000 tonnes of chemicals are used each year in the UK to kill weeds, insects and other pests that attack crops. Organic farming uses mainly natural methods, developing good soil and healthy crops which have a strong natural resistance to pests and diseases. The UK Government has said that organic farming is better for wildlife, causes lower pollution from sprays, produces less carbon dioxide and fewer dangerous wastes.

More wildlife

  • Wildlife is 50% more abundant on organic farms1
  • Organic farms support on average a third more species2
  • This includes more rare species3

More bird life

  • On average nearly 25% more bird species on organic farms2
  • Rare species such as iconic skylarks do better on organic farms - one study found more than double the number of skylark territories10

More plants and flowers

  • Organic farms have on average 75% more plant species2
  • And they have a significantly greater coverage of wildflowers3,4
  • There are also more rare species of wildflowers - essential to rare species of insects that need these species to survive3,4

More bees and butterflies

  • On average, there are 50% more species of pollinators on organic farms compared to conventional - that’s more species of butterflies and wild bees2
  • There are 2-3 times more species of non-pest butterflies - these are species which are farm-friendly and don’t feed on crops5
  • This is great news as pollinators need our help - in the UK, three quarters of UK butterfly species have declined in the past decade9 and eight of our 25 bumblebee species are threatened, with two already extinct8

More habitats for hedgehogs and other animals

  • Organic farmers manage wildlife habitats as a vital part of a successful organic farm
  • This includes areas such as banks, ponds and grassland, and habitat links, such as hedges and field margins
  • Research shows that hedgerows, important for hedgehogs and other small mammals, are on average more diverse, bigger and better on organic farms6
  • And organic farmers don’t cut their hedges between March and August to allow wildlife to thrive within them during the growing and breeding season

Deforestation and the loss of primary ecosystems

In developing countries there can be pressure to convert valuable ecosystems such as rainforest to farmland. But our standards state that any high conservation value land mustn't be converted to organic farmland, but left intact. This helps to protect the rich biodiversity that is found in these rare and diverse ecosystems.7

References

  1. Hole, D.G., Perkins, A.J., Wilson, J.D., Alexander, I.H., Grice, F. & Evans, A.D. (2005) Does organic farming benefit biodiversity? Biological Conservation, 122, 113–130
  2. Tuck et al, (2014) Land-use intensity and the effects of organic farming on biodiversity: a hierarchical meta-analysis', is published in the Journal of Applied Ecology,
  3. Batáry P, Sutcliffe L, Dormann CF, Tscharntke T (2013) Organic Farming Favours Insect-Pollinated over Non-Insect Pollinated Forbs in Meadows and Wheat Fields. PLoS ONE 8(1): e54818
  4. Holzschuh, A, Steffan-Dewenter, I Kleijn, D and Tscharntke, T (2007). ‘Diversity of flower-visiting bees in cereal fields: effects of farming system, landscape composition and regional context’. Journal of Applied Ecology. Vol 44
  5. Feber RE, Firbank LG, Johnson PJ, Macdonald DW (1997) The effects of organic farming on pest and non-pest butterfly abundance. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 64:133-139
  6. Norton LR, Johnson PJ, Joys AC, Stuart RC, Chamberlain DE, Feber RE, Firbank LG, Manley WJ, Wolfe MS, Hart B, Mathews F, Macdonald DW, Fuller RJ (2009)
  7. Soil Association Organic Standards: farming and growing 4.1.4 and 4.1.5
  8. Goulson, D.G. and Lye, B. D. (2012) ‘The decline and conservation of bumblebees’
  9. Butterfly Conservation – State of Britain’s Butterflies Report 2011
  10. Wilson, J.D., Evans, J., Browne, S.J. & King, J.R. Territory distribution and breeding success of skylarks (Alaunda arvensis) on organic and intensive farmland in southern England. Journal of Applied Ecology, 1997, 34, 1462-1478

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