Food and nature

How farming policy has prioritised productivity over the health of our environments, and what we’re doing to help turn things around.

A mix of wildflowers in a meadow
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Since the 1940s, UK farmers have answered the call to feed a growing population and increase the self-sufficiency of our nations. Meanwhile, farming policy and incentives rewarded intensive practices and pushed nature to the bottom of the priority list. 

UK farming policies, and then the Common Agricultural Policy, encouraged farmers to increase the productivity of farmland and turn all available land over to food production, even if that meant removing hedgerows and turning wetlands and habitats over to farmland. And our farmers did exactly what was asked of them, to provide abundant, affordable food. But there is compelling evidence it’s possible to farm productively and profitably in a way that supports nature, biodiversity and helps address the climate crisis. Farmers can again come to the rescue.  

Habitats that are essential to productivity – such as well-maintained hedgerows, farm ponds and flower-rich field boundaries – also support biodiversity. We know that farming does not just produce the food we eat but is also central to efforts to tackle the nature, climate, and public health crises. 

We know that the biggest risk to the UK’s domestic production comes from climate change and other environmental pressures. But prevention is better than cure: nature can sustain agriculture, hold vast stores of carbon, and reduce the risk of extreme weather events such as flooding and heatwaves. Our farming system can create more opportunities for nature, alongside food production. 

What is nature friendly farming?

Nature is essential to our long-term food security, but our food systems can also be part of securing a future for nature. We know that farming can be part of the solution to the nature and climate crisis, and that thriving wildlife, healthy soils and climate resilience are key to prosperous and productive farming businesses. 

A nature-friendly farming system is not only sustainable but also helps restore wildlife populations. Agriculture covers 70% of the UK, therefore, there is a huge opportunity within farming to increase biodiversity through nature-friendly farming. Providing good quality wildlife habitats on farms can recover a range of species above and below ground, while boosting soil health, pollination and providing natural pest management.  

Ground-breaking research – funded by the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts and the National Trust – shows that moving to less intensive systems can improve economic and environmental outcomes for farms. Farmers can achieve this at scale by ensuring that 10% of farmed land provides high-quality habitats (for example via the RSPB’s Fair to Nature certification scheme).  

In 2000, we took over Hope Farm – an arable farm in Cambridgeshire, to demonstrate, research and encourage wildlife-friendly farming. We’re showing how it’s possible to run a successful farming business, that produces food, makes a profit, and is valuable for wildlife as well.  

Breeding farmland birds like the Linnet, Reed Bunting and Skylark have at least tripled in number. Lapwings, grey partridges, corn buntings, and yellow wagtails have all returned as breeding species.

A lone Skylark perched on a mound covered in brown grass,

Birds are not only flourishing in the breeding season – in winter, the number of birds using the farm has also increased. Regular visitors include Fieldfares and Redwings, large flocks of Reed Buntings and Yellowhammers, as well as our resident Barn Owls hunting at dusk over the stubble fields.  

Improving the habitat for birds also benefits other species. In many cases, helping one species means helping another. For example, butterflies thrive along the wildflower margins and on the rest of the farm, showing the impact that nature-friendly farming is having on wider pollinator species.   

Read the Hope Farm Annual Report

What can I do?

We know that the public want to make more environmentally conscious choices, with 67% of the UK public being concerned with the decline in the variety of UK wildlife and 60% saying eco-labels would influence their choices.  

There is great public support for nature-friendly farming, as recognised by the People’s Assembly for Nature, which ranked the call “to prioritise sustainable and nature-friendly farming” as one of the most urgent calls to action for Governments. 

What we buy can and does influence how our countryside and the seas are managed. Growing demand for more sustainable products has led to a rapid increase in brands which claim higher environmental standards. Certification schemes such as Fair to Nature show that food has been produced in a more nature-friendly way. Together we can demand change to ensure that nature-friendly food choices are accessible and affordable for all.

Supporting farmers, crofters and land managers

Through our partnership Farm Wildlife, we offer management advice for farmers, crofters and land managers looking to make their systems and practices as nature-friendly as possible.  

We also support the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) as a partner organisation. NFFN is led by farmers around the UK who believe in the power of sustainable farming and are pushing for policy changes that support nature-friendly methods. They also provide practical management advice for farming that puts nature and climate first.

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