Postnote Briefing Paper
The Issue: To achieve balance between agricultural intensification associated with production of food and environmental protection.
Objective: Assess the implications of land sparing and agricultural intensification. Develop comprehensive strategy for land and biodiversity protection in the framework of two approaches outlined.
The current postnote briefing paper addresses the topical issue of biodiversity protection when effectuating agricultural activity in the UK. For the purposes of the current paper, a conceptual model demonstrating detailed structure of the paper was outlined. Two agricultural approaches were considered: land sparing and agricultural intensification. The two approaches were evaluated; potential costs and benefits of these approaches were described. On the basement of the analysis conducted there was a strategy for sustainable agriculture outlined. The consequences of the proposed strategy were described and social, economic and ecological impact was evaluated. The risk management and risk mitigation strategies were developed with regard to the strategy outlined.
The Background of the Issue:
Taking into account growing population and environmental issues associated with human activity, achieving balance between productive agriculture and saving wildlife has become one of the key challenges in UK. There are two approaches to the land use which will be examined in this briefing document, namely: land sparing and agricultural intensification. These are the two opposite theoretical approaches to the land use. In land sparing, wild nature and agriculture are separated forming homogeneous landscape. Agricultural intensification can be subdivided into sustainable and unsustainable agricultural intensification. Sustainable agricultural intensification is the part of land sparing. In contemporary business environment unsustainable or traditional agriculture is becoming less popular giving the place to sustainable approaches. It is important to evaluate each approach and outline a strategy for further land use in UK taking into account the current state of environment and the needs of UK citizens.
Conceptual Model: Currently, there are two approaches to the use of land, namely: land sparing and agricultural intensification.
Land sparing is the concept of land use that assumes utilization of existing agricultural land for increasing yields while sparing other land for nature conservation. According to the theories of land use, the allocation of land will provide larger areas for wildlife and ensure biodiversity. However, this concept would not probably fit environmental management concepts. For example, a concept of ecosystem approach which aims to develop integrity of the systems of natural resources. Land sparing consists of two key components: sustainable intensification of protection of natural habitats and restoration of natural habitats that were lost (Wentworth, 2012).
Another approach is called agricultural intensification. Agricultural intensification is the cultivation of land that assumes the use of land with high inputs of fertilizers for obtaining maximum output. It is associated with traditional farming which belongs to old-fashioned methods (Firbank, Petit, Smart, Blain and Fuller, 2008).
Further, the two approaches will be evaluated with regard to costs, benefits and consequences of implementation of each approach. Then a strategy related the main issue will be developed, an impact of contextual, ecological and geographical factors will be evaluated, and strategy of risk mitigation will be outlined. A schematic conceptual model is defined in the Appendix 1.
Land sparing is an approach in agriculture aiming at two objectives: maximum agriculture yields and nature conservation. The theory of land sparing assumes providing sufficient land to wildlife thus ensuring quality habitats. Land sparing includes the two components – sustainable intensification of agricultural protection of habitats and restoration of previously lost species. Under sustainable intensification production of maximum output using the same area with minimum negative impact on environment is meant. This approach also assumes more yield obtained from a smaller area while the remaining areas are left for wild life. Wunder (2004) suggested that higher yields would probably increase market pressure of converting spared lands to agricultural.
Biodiversity Action Plan regulates the process of conservation in the UK. The Plan is focused on conservation of specific species and habitats. Restoration of habitats according to this Plan was successful because EU statistics reported restoring 15% of vanishing species the last year (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, 2006).
EU sets out strategies for European nature conservation and creates specialized sites for environment protection. In the UK, there are National Nature Reserves which are specially designed for the purposes of environmental protection. There were also Sites of Special Scientific Interest designated for the same purposes (Natural England Technical Information Note, 2009).
Agricultural intensification is a traditional way of land development for the purposes of agriculture. Agricultural intensification made pressure on biodiversity, thus, it has being replaced by more environmentally friendly agricultural approaches. Firbank, Petit, Smart, Blain and Fuller (2008) estimated that 30% of primarily land productivity was influenced globally. However, this indicator reaches 72% in Western Europe and the level of appropriation increases with economic growth and an increase in population. As overall food forecasted demand for 2050 may have grown threefold, there would be a need to cultivate more land or use agricultural intensification causing harm to biodiversity unless another approach would be developed. Agricultural intensification constitutes the greatest threat to populations of birds (Population Reference Bureau, 2010).
The pressures of agricultural intensification are classified by management of landscape, land cover and management of crops. The differences between the pressures can be traced in different landscapes of Great Britain using nutrient surplus and biodiversity as indicators. The study also revealed positive correlation between nutrient surplus, plants richness and habitat diversity. To reduce the pressures exerted by agricultural intensification pollution caused by fertilizers should be minimized as well as minimizing loss of agricultural land and loss of large habitats (Myers and Kent, 2003).
Potential Costs and Benefits of Land Sparing:
There are objections to the land sparing strategy, such as influence on neighboring habitats, pollution, excessive consumption of fresh water and edge effects (BirdLife International, 2010).
The balance between the costs and benefits of land sparing depends on location. Geographical position of UK is unique. UK climate and soil varies significantly because of the length of the island and different latitudes thus influencing their productivity (Carrington, 2012).
Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (2006) represented classification of agricultural land and its use offering an insight into potential for developing sustainable agriculture. Thus, a decision about which lands can be used for agricultural purposes or spared can be made on the basement of this classification.
Quinn, Brandle and Johnson (2012) argued that organic farming does not ensure conservation of some species because of variation in use of land. Usually, organic farming offers more opportunities for biodiversity development in comparison with non-organic farms. Thus, it is important to develop organic farming and use land with respect to a particular location aiming to minimize negative impact on the environment. However, in most cases growth in crops yield is associated with loss of habitat (BirdLife International, 2010).
Carrington (2012) criticized land sparing arguing that it is a comprehensive theoretical approach which lead to abuse when applied in practice. He also stated that environmentally friendly farming is vulnerable to economic and social changes recently observed in EU states.
Carrington (2012) also stated that according to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) €34.5 billion for the years 2007-2013 were assigned for land sharing schemes. However, land sparing does not ensure maximum benefit because agriculture in UK subject to either overproduction or lack of human resources. The major problem in UK agriculture is outflow of human resources from countryside. Thus, CAP offers financing for “who would otherwise have to leave the land" (Phalan in Carrington, 2012). Carrington (2012) emphasized the necessity of land reforms to be carried out instead of spending billions of euros for the projects that do not ensure the required yield.
Potential Costs and Benefits of Agricultural Intensification:
Increase in crops can be achieved through intensification of agricultural use of land. Increasing productivity of the land and protection of biodiversity constitute a great dilemma. The evaluation of traditional and organic farming is compared in terms of quality matrix meaning socially responsible business. According to Perfecto and Vandermeera (2009), “high-energy-demanding, chemically intensive agriculture associated with modernity generates a very low quality matrix” (para 5). On the contrary, alternative agriculture, i.e. natural-systems agriculture, organic farming and agroecological approach is producing a high-quality matrix. However, traditional intensive agriculture is considered more productive than its ecologically friendly alternatives. This is the major benefit of agricultural intensification models (Perfecto and Vandermeera, 2009).
Another significant advantage of intensive farming is that the production of vegetables and fruits are less expensive. This is an important social aspect of intensive farming because these products are available to socially vulnerable groups while organic food can be afforded by elite stratum of the society. In addition, intensive farming does not require large spaces in comparison to farming spaces required to grow organic crops. Also, the equipment required for intensive farming is more economical (Godfray, Beddington, Crute, Haddad, Lawrence, Muir, Pretty, Robinson, Thomas and Toulmin, 2010).
Among the most disappointing disadvantages of intensive farming are using chemical fertilizers, insecticides pesticides; consumption of inorganic food may threaten with health issues including incurable diseases like cancer; hybrid seeds used to increase crops are harmful for human health; chemicals used in intensive farming cause harm to insects negatively influencing biodiversity (Matson and Vitousek, 2006).
Proposed Strategy of Sustainable Agriculture:
On the basement of analysis conducted by Perfecto and Vandermeera (2009), there was agroecological matrix proposed as an alternative to the models of land sparing and agriculture intensification. The agroecological matrix is seen as a component of existing conservation programs. Green, Cornell, Scharlemann and Balmford (2005) stated that this model is supposed to be more successful when implemented in small-scale agroecological households that are considered more effective and ecologically friendly.
The research conducted by Firbank et al. (2008) suggested that large capital intensive traditional farms tend to ignore ecological peculiarities. Small-scale farms are involved in precision farming in greater extent aiming to implement principles of sustainable agriculture. Thus, future of sustainable agriculture is based on per unit-area rather than on large-scale agriculture (Tilman, D., Cassman, K. G., Matson, P. A., Naylor, R. and Polasky, S., 2002).
Carrington (2012) considered the opportunity to abandon ecologically friendly agriculture in favor of developing nature reserves. He also suggested the reallocation of CAP budget to form nature reserves instead of spending the costs on wildlife friendly farming. To his opinion, spending much money on ecologically friendly programs does not ensure maximum benefit questioning the efficacy of land sparing as an alternative to conventional intensive farming. Contemporary agriculture must be oriented on social responsibility and ethical issues arising from this activity because extinction is irreversible process that should be immediately taken into account (Balmford, Green, and Scharlemann, 2005).
Evaluation of Consequences and Impact of Implementation of Proposed Strategies:
Agricultural matrix proposed by Perfecto and Vandermeera (2009) addresses several crucial issues, namely: it creates a win-win situation aiming to grapple both food shortage and biodiversity crisis. They stated that family agricultural households can be more productive in comparison to conventional farming growing multiple cultures rather than growing intensive monocultures in the large-scale farms. In addition, development of small-scale farming would help resolve the issues of overproduction and poverty in rural regions: small-scale farms will regulate their output according to the demand in the market; regulated amount of production of agricultural products will regulate pricing as well as limited supply helps hold stable prices. This is an important economic advantage offered by sustainable farming. In addition, the opportunity of running own agricultural business will attract poor people aiming to find the opportunity to earn money for living and stimulate rural development in the UK thus resolving several sociopolitical issues (Sutherland, 2004).
Risk Management/Mitigation Strategy:
Obviously, the effects of agricultural intensification are context-specific and are often determined by economic factors (BirdLife International, 2010). Neither land sparing nor ecologically friendly farming can be considered an ideal method of resolving the issues of food production and environment protection. One of the most effective techniques to mitigate the risk of overproduction and waste of non-renewable resources is to limit the demand for agricultural products making farming activity more precise. The development of government policy aiming to minimize food wastage and to limit the production of non-food crops will help mitigate the threat of misuse of land. Also, the alternative of land use for conservation must be considered (Ewers, R. M., Scharlemann, J. P. W. Balmford, A. and Green, R. E., 2009). Besides, there is a risk that the market will make pressure to convert spared land to agricultural. In theory, further cultivation of the land will be less productive with implications of habitats spared. Thus, another mitigation strategy is to cultivate existing land rather than using new land for agriculture (Fischer, J., Brosi, B., Daily, G. C., Ehrlich, P. R, Goldman, R., Goldstein, J., Lindenmayer, D. B., Manning, A. D., Mooney, H. A, Pejchar, L., Ranganathan, J. and Tallis, H., 2008.).
Balmford, A., Green, R. E. and Scharlemann, J. P. W., 2005. Sparing land for nature: exploring the potential impact of changes in agricultural yield on the area needed for crop production. Global Change Biology, 11, pp. 1594–1605.
BirdLife International, 2010. Wildlife-friendly farming versus land sparing. [online] Available at:
Carrington, D., 2011. Land sparing beats land sharing for both food and fauna. The Guardian. Science blog, [blog] 18 October. Available at: