Eating Biodiversity: An Investigation of the Links between Quality Food Production and Biodiversity Protection
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The study is part of the NERC Rural Economy and Land Use (RELU) programme. This project investigated the links between quality food production and biodiversity protection by asking the question: can production systems that use and maintain biodiverse natural grasslands, translate that into a source of additional product value in the production of meat and cheese and therefore benefit rural economies? The aim was to inverse the conventional understanding of landscape or environmental quality as the outcome of well managed farming to explore the idea of natural grassland biodiversity as an input into more sustainable farming and as an integral component of product quality. This dataset consists of the grassland botanical composition and chemical soil analyses resulting from this project. A botanical field survey of a number of sample grazing sites on selected case study farms records the plant species present within a representative area of phytosociologically homogeneous vegetation and the percentage cover that each species vertically projects onto the ground surface. Soil analyses of sample sites determines soil composition, pH and minerals. Land management, consumer opinion and nutritional data from this study are available at the UK Data Archive under study number 6159 (see online resources). Further documentation for this study may be found through the RELU Knowledge Portal and the project's ESRC funding award web page (see online resources).
This data collection results from abundance surveys of 7 species of weeds in ca. 500 lowland arable fields in 49 farms over three years. Each field was divided into large grids of 20x20 metre cells, and the density of seven species was estimated three times a year. The study is part of the NERC Rural Economy and Land Use (RELU) programme. In the context of changing external and internal pressures on UK agriculture, particularly those associated with the ongoing reform of the EU Common Agricultural Policy, it is imperative to determine whether all of the various dimensions of sustainability - including the relevant economic and environmental objectives as well as social and cultural values - can be integrated successfully at the farm and landscape levels. Although the ways in which economic, technological, and regulatory changes are likely to affect the profitability and management of farms of varying size are reasonably well understood, there is not the knowledge or understanding to predict the resulting effects on biodiversity. For example, the effect of changes in arable farming practices on field weeds and, in turn, on habitats and food supply required to sustain farm birds is a case in point. This knowledge is critical, however, if we are to understand the ecological consequences of changes in agricultural policy. Furthermore, it is also important if we are to design and justify changes in farming methods that can not only enhance nature conservation, but do this is ways that are practical and appealing from a farmer's point of view. This understanding is essential if we are to achieve an agriculture that is sustainable in both economic and environmental terms and is widely perceived to have social and cultural value. A consistent theme in all components of this research project is to understand the behaviour (of farmers, weeds or birds) and then use this information to produce predictive models. Whilst there have been a number of models of economic behaviour, weed populations and bird populations - including many by the research team here - the really novel component of this research is to integrate these within one framework. Farmer interviews on economic attitudes and preferences associated with and importance of different land-use objectives to lowland arable farmers are available at the UK Data Archive under study number 6728 (see online resources). Further documentation for this study may be found through the RELU Knowledge Portal and the project's ESRC funding award web page (see online resources).