Comparing land sharing and land sparing for conservation in the UK

How can we maintain or increase food production without compromising wildlife and other ecosystem services?

Teasel seedheads Dipsacus fullonum, at Lodge Hill site of special scientific interest, Medway, Kent


Globally, agriculture is the greatest threat to wildlife. For many regions of the world, evidence suggests most species would fare least badly if food demand was met through high-yield farming combined with the protection of natural habitats (known as "land sparing"), as opposed to more wildlife-friendly, lower yielding farming ("land sharing").

The UK has a long history of agriculture. Many species of conservation concern are linked to low-intensity, traditional High Nature Value farming, whilst some sensitive species that prefer a land sparing system may already have been lost. There is therefore an urgent need to examine the trade-offs between food production, wildlife conservation and other ecosystem services (eg carbon storage and recreation).


  • To measure the relationship between breeding abundance and agricultural yield for breeding bird species in The Fens and Salisbury Plain.
  • To develop realistic scenarios of land-use for these regions which maintain overall levels of food production.
  • To evaluate these food production scenarios for each breeding bird species.
  • To evaluate these food production scenarios for other ecosystem services, including carbon storage and human recreation.

Key Dates

  • April-July 2016: Breeding Bird Survey fieldwork
  • Sept 2016 to date: Landowner surveys


Bird survey data has been collated from several sources and has been supplemented with fieldwork conducted during the 2016 breeding season.

Landowner surveys are underway and we are in the process of estimating food production yields for each bird survey site.

Planned Work

We are combining bird survey data with landowner interviews in order to compare bird species abundance with estimates of agricultural production. This has involved some fieldwork (to supplement existing national breeding bird survey data, as well as to meet farmers and nature reserve managers to discuss food production), which will continue throughout the 2017 breeding season. 

We will also hold workshops with local stakeholders to ensure that our land-use scenarios are as realistic, relevant and useful as possible.


Bird conservation and the land sharing-sparing continuum in farmland-dominated landscapes of lowland England

Empirical evidence from many regions suggests that most species would be least negatively affected if human food demand were met through high-yield agricultural production and conservation of nonfarm ecosystems (land sparing), rather than through wildlife-friendly farming over...

21 March 2019
RSPB Authors
Dr Tom Finch, Prof Rhys Green, Dr Will Peach
Finch, T., Gillings, S., Green, R.E., Massimino, D., Peach, W.J. & Balmford, A.
Published in
Conservation Biology
View publication Details


Coast on a stormy day

Dr Tom Finch

Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science
Coast on a stormy day

Dr Will Peach

Head of Research Delivery Section, Conservation Science
Coast on a stormy day

Prof Rhys Green

Professor of Conservation Science, Conservation Science
Coast on a stormy day

Dr Rob Field

Senior Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science
Tagged with: Country: England Habitat: Farmland Habitat: Grassland Habitat: Wetland Project status: Ongoing Project classification: Ongoing Project types: Research