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Engineering and the Environment

Research project: Conservation farming

Currently Active: 

The future of agricultural food production poses major challenges to human society. As noted in Professor Sir John Beddington's report on The Future of Food & Farming, we need to recognise and balance the adverse and positive impacts of food production. How might we provide food at rates sufficient to meet demand, whilst maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services? Although there has been much research relating to food production and its associated impacts, there remain areas that are still not well understood. We need to know more about approaches to conservation-focused farming through which high levels of food production might be maintained but with negligible or tolerable adverse impacts.

Project Overview

This project involves a series of short, focused studies which aim to provide the evidence basis to underpin whether and how conservation-focused approaches to farming function serve our need to produce food whilst maintaining the conservation value of farmland. The project is jointly funded by Conservation Grade and the Vitacress Conservation Trust.

This work focuses primarily on the Conservation Grade approach to conservation farming, generating scientific and empirical evidence relating to balancing the needs of food production and its broader impacts on farmland ecosystems with focus on, for example:

  • Conservation farming in relation to biodiversity.
  • Impacts of conservation farming on crop yields
  • Uncultivated areas, pollinators and natural pest control.
  • Optimal habitat and habitat size for biodiversity.
  • Habitats connectivity.
  • Comparative value of farming systems in regard to biodiversity and ecosystem services.
  • Broader values from ecosystem services.

Studies undertaken within the project include:

Farm-level agri-environmental management for biodiversity using butterflies as an indicator species. Emily Edhouse.

The conservation of the spur-thighed tortoise, Testudo graeca, in an agriculturally dominated landscape in south east Spain: Rebecca Smith.

Delivery of conservation schemes for farmland birds at the farm-scale during winter, in Southern lowland England. Dominic Harrison.

The influence of standing waters on phosphorus in chalk stream headwaters. Marta Gorska.

Farmers' values and behavioural motivators for agri-environment scheme participation. Lucinda Thompson.

Abundance and habitat preference of Bats on Conservation, Organic and Stewardship farms. Michael Pantling

A wild bird food strip

"Conservation Grade has developed a truly unique system of sustainable farming, founded on science and commercial viability - and internationally recognised by The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) study, Natural England and the RSPB, for its significant contribution to the conservation of biodiversity through the commercial marketplace."

Tim Nevard, Director, Conservation Grade.

Related research groups

Centre for Environmental Sciences


Key Publication(s)



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