Natural England commission a range of reports from external contractors to provide evidence and advice to assist us in delivering our duties. The views in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of Natural England.
Globally, the expansion and intensification of agriculture are leading drivers of biodiversity loss and environmental harm. As the human population grows in size and wealth, a key question is how to reconcile food production with the maintenance and recovery of biodiversity and ecosystem services.
The land sharing-sparing framework provides a heuristic approach for evaluating the environmental consequences of contrasting regional land-use scenarios all producing the same quantity of agricultural produce.
Empirical evidence collected across several regions of the world suggest that more species would benefit from land sparing (in which the extent of farmland is minimised through high-yield farming, thus sparing more seminatural habitat) than from land sharing (in which the intensity of farmland is minimised through lower-yield farming, with no spared seminatural habitat). Recent research on birds in two regions of lowland England (The Fens and Salisbury Plain) supports a mixed, ‘three-compartment sparing’ strategy, in which high-yield farming spares land for both semi/natural habitat and low-yield farmland.
Natural England’s interest in this area encompasses the need to understand how land use might be configured to conserve biodiversity and ecosystem benefits more effectively whilst maintaining food production at the levels required by society. This research was commissioned to build on previous work by the research team with the particular aim of exploring further the potential benefits of the ‘three-compartment sparing strategy’:
• Is three-compartment sparing compatible with improving environmental outcomes such as global warming potential and diffuse pollution (nitrogen and phosphorus export)?
• Is three-compartment sparing supported in other regions of lowland England (The Cotswolds and Low Weald) and for butterflies as well as birds?
The outputs may be used to inform design and development of agri-environment policies and delivery approaches.