What has been the true impact of conventional intensive arable farming?
Where does it need more balance for a successful future?
These are the questions Glenn Anderson, landowner and project leader at Wendling Beck Environment Project sat down to discuss with AiDash Director of Product Innovation and Strategy and Host Stephen Marland for a recent episode of Sustainability Superheroes.
With more than 20 years in conservation and farming agriculture experience, Anderson spoke about the pressures he has seen influencing modern day farming and how they relate to conservation, specifically for the Wendling Beck project.
Watch a recording of the live event now or read on for 3 key takeaways.
Takeaway 1: UK farms are hurting but poised to recover and help reverse biodiversity loss.
The UK has been on gradual increased trend of intensification, or increased productivity per acre, and that’s come a bit of a cost in terms of the environment, according to Wendling Beck Environment Project’s Glenn Anderson.
The result is a loss of biodiversity across the landscape.
Other unique challenges UK farming now must adapt to include:
- Changing government policies.
- Climate and environmental conditions.
- Impact of pesticides and synthetic inputs.
- Reduction of subsidies from former EU levels.
- New market opportunities.
“All those factors mean that we need to just do things in a different way,” says Anderson. “And I think as we sort of head forward to the future, There really needs to be more balance in the system.”
The Wendling Beck Environment Project, which includes four farms, three sites of special scientific interest, and an ancient woodland, provides a place to examine how these issues affect farming, both negatively and positively.
Says Anderson, “We’ve got a net zero ambition within this country. … Land-based farming is probably one of the only industries that has the ability to actually help reverse biodiversity loss and store more carbon within the land. So, we’re in a unique position there, and that gives us opportunities not just from a financial perspective but also within the environment as well.”
Takeaway 2: Now is not the time to cling to post-war practices.
With farming subsidies shifting and climate change fueling extreme weather events, particularly drought, keeping to the status quo of “farming conventionally in the way we always have” is not an option, Anderson explains. “It’s just not sustainable.”
That’s especially evident as the climate’s effects threaten the UK’s food security.
The farmers and landowners at WBEP, having a good amount of land use under their control, are seeking to get to the root cause of issues and rebalance land use and farming practices.
Enter managed conservation.
WBEP advocates managed conservation — connecting lowland, heath, lowland, meadow flood, plain wetland, mosaic, connective woodland blocks to create a landscape that allows different species to really thrive. And the managed approach looks for ways to allow less intensive farming approaches within the mix as well. It avoids general rewilding, which in many definitions, does not allow possible other uses of the land.
“So really we’re looking to go backwards in some regards to the way that the land used to be farmed and used a bit less intensive but really working for nature and creating a biodiversity uplift in that process, which potentially gives us the ability to monetize that as well,” says Anderson.
Takeaway 3: Do it with data. Assess, improve, and monetize landholdings.
To build and unfold the managed conservation process, data is key. It is also what can help monetize opportunities improved and restored habitats provide.
“It’s all about data capture,” says Anderson, “how you’re storing that data, how you make it usable, how you make it accessible.”
To that end, WBEP works with different organizations and technologies. “Really, we are looking at how we can measure the uplift of species through the habitat that we’re creating,” Anderson explains.
For example, technology such as satellite and AI evaluation added to boots-on-the-ground observation could help evaluate a field for improvements and biodiversity net gain (BNG) potential. If agricultural chemicals are detected, causing the area to score low on biodiversity, the objective might be to transform the area into grassland, with an uplift of four or five units per hectare as part of that process.
“You can aim for the pristine meadow, but if you achieve habitat a notch lower, it is still a significant achievement,” observes Anderson.
In fact, those biodiversity units that have been uplifted can be monetized — sold to developers who are looking for offsets.
WBEP built a level of expertise just by going through the steps to create a conservation process. Now the organization is getting a lot of interest from other landowners who want to take a similar approach.
And here’s where Anderson recommends a collaboration of multiple landowners coming together. And not just landowners: The more the LPAs and the local authorities can collaborate, the better, he says.
“Our job is to understand the opportunities within the landscape and understand the best places for nature,” explains Anderson. “And I think we probably understand that better than some, simply because we are farmers and we are doing it day in, day out.”
To learn more about Wendling Beck Environment Project and their approach to regenerative agriculture, habitat creation, and biodiversity watch the video of the live event here.
Or get more information about AiDash Intelligent Sustainability Management System here.