You are helping to save the colour in our countryside

Louise Payton - 21 February 2014

Fragrant orchids

Fragrant Orchids in bloom on Helen Browning's organic farm in Wiltshire. Photo taken by wildlife photographer Elliott Neep, see more of his stunning images of wildlife at Eastbrook.

Our countryside has changed colour in the past century. Now mostly green or perhaps yellow with rapeseed (and more recently brown with flood water), it used to be a profusion of reds, blues, whites, yellows and purples when wildflowers bloomed in all their splendour. Agricultural intensification has been the reason for this change in palette - 97% of our wildflower meadows have been converted, weed-killers have obliterated the huge variety of wild plants (weeds) that insects and farmland birds depend on, and mixed cropping (used to control insect pests and break-up disease cycles), have been replaced with inorganic fertilisers and repetitive monocultures.

The loss of all these flowers has had a devastating impact on our wildlife. A wildflower meadow was described in the early century as being chock-full with butterflies, thickly filling the skies above and stretching into the distance as far as the eye could see - a sight now which is hard to imagine.

But there is hope. By supporting our work on organic farming, you are helping to bring some colour back.

Organic farmers must maintain their flower rich meadows, and mixed cropping with clovers, peas and beans are still used as part of the farming system. Furthermore, organic farms use no weed-killers. The result? More wildflower habitats and more flowers within crops - and often around them too as there is no risk of dangerous chemical sprays drifting onto field margins from organic farms1. Overall, research has shown that organic farms have on average around 75% more species of plants2 and a significantly greater coverage of wildflowers3,4,5. What’s more, organic farms go some way to help species conservation as they have an increased diversity of rare species, such as the beautiful but endangered red hemp nettle and corn buttercup, and the rare but once common cornflower5.

So this is to say a great big thank you for those supporting our work on organic farming and helping to bring more flowers, as well as butterflies and bees back into our countryside. If you want to be a Wildlife Warrior too, you can find out more here - www.soilassociation.org/wildlifewarrior

References:

  1. Holzschuh et al (2008) ‘Agricultural landscapes with organic crops support higher pollinator diversity’ http://biologie.uni-bayreuth.de/toek1_pop/de/pub/html/Oikos_2008_117_354_361_Holzschuh_et_al.pdf
  2. Tuck et al, (2014) ‘Land-use intensity and the effects of organic farming on biodiversity: a hierarchical meta-analysis’ http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1365-2664.12219/abstract
  3. Batáry P, Sutcliffe L, Dormann CF, Tscharntke T (2013) Organic Farming Favours Insect-Pollinated over Non-Insect Pollinated Forbs in Meadows and Wheat Fields. PLoS ONE 8(1): e54818. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0054818
  4. Holzschuh, A, Steffan-Dewenter, I Kleijn, D and Tscharntke, T (2007). ‘Diversity of flower-visiting bees in cereal fields: effects of farming system, landscape composition and regional context’. Journal of Applied Ecology. Vol 44
  5. Hole et al, (2005) ‘Does organic farming benefit biodiversity?’ http://www.ecosensus.ca/Hole2005.pdf

Louise is Policy Officer for farming and land use at the Soil Association.

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Comments



Elisabeth Winkler
23 February 2014 13:43

Really helpful blog, many thanks! Explains the benefits of organic farming, and with linked references - really useful. Hope we can have more of these in the future.

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