“I have seen many farms across the country and beyond where the balance between food production and nature is already being achieved,” says Sarah Barnsley, Postgraduate Researcher at the University of East Anglia. “So I have enormous hope that the future of farming will be more sustainable.” Sarah is speaking in the Emerging Agri-Tech Session at REAP 2019.
“There is an increasing recognition of the importance of ecosystem functioning so that if you restore ecosystem balance, you benefit nature but also increase productivity.
“For example, over 1,000 pollinator species within the UK contribute millions in terms of increased crop yield. Of course pollination is only one of many ecosystem functions that contribute to food production.
“The research that I am undertaking is examining how we can increase food resources for pollinators in UK agricultural landscapes. I am looking at how we can use remote sensing technologies to identify various wildflower and hedgerow species and therefore the food supply that is already available on-farm. This way we would be able to identify any gaps that need to be filled either spatially or temporally.
“I am also identifying how the wildflower composition of different areas of a farm influences the pollinator community there. The nectar reward provided by different flowers might not be available for all species, for example if their tongue is not the right length to reach the nectar. We can start to piece together the building blocks of what different pollinators need and provide that on-farm, for example by changing the composition of wildflower mixes.
“By improving the food supply for pollinators as a whole you could enhance pollination services and crop yield. Putting some cropped land towards suitable habitat for wildlife doesn’t have to affect profitability either, if you take the low producing parts of a field out, for example the hard to reach corners of a field.
“A study published in 2015 by Pywell et al demonstrated that by turning up to 8 per cent of unproductive cropped land to habitat, the same level of productivity could be maintained overall.
“I believe that we have many of the answers already and that the key enabler needed is a shift of willpower across all of society to put these solutions into place. Farmers have a part to play, but so do consumers, government and advisory bodies.
“Farming can be part of the solution in terms of maintaining and enhancing biodiversity and in terms of meeting the resource requirements of a growing global population.”
Sarah Barnsley has a BSc in Animal Science from the University of Reading and an MSc in Conservation Science from Imperial College. She is currently completing a PhD at the University of East Anglia, in collaboration with HL Hutchinson Ltd, looking at how foraging resources can be managed for pollinators at the whole farm scale.