Non-profit UKCEH found that putting farmland aside for nature did not reduce productivity, following a ten-year study at Hillesden in the UK

According to the results of a ten-year project by the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (UKCEH), nature-friendly farming methods boost biodiversity without lowering average yields.

This means that setting farmland aside for nature does not negatively impact food security, contrary to suggestions made by ex-chancellor Rishi Sunak, who has pledged to protect agriculture from rewilding were he to become prime minister.

The study took place at Hillesden, a 1,000ha commercial arable farm in Buckinghamshire, and assessed the effectiveness of agri-environmental measures, such as creating wildlife habitats for birds, insects and small mammals, in reducing biodiversity losses.

Not only did the numbers of pollinators and predators of crop pests soar as a result of the experiment, overall yields at Hillesden were maintained, or even enhanced for some crops.

Lead author, UKCEH’s Dr John Redhead, commented: “Investigating changes in populations over a significant period of time, and comparing these with other sites, means we can be confident that agri-environment options can bring long-term term benefits for bird and butterfly populations.

“Hillesden is a typical, large arable farm with conventional agricultural practices, in an ordinary landscape with no large patches of natural habitat. Therefore, it is likely that the results of our long-term study indicate what can be achieved on other commercial farms with good planning, implementation and management of agri-environment measures.”

Jake Fiennes, head of conservation at the Holkham estate in Norfolk, told the Guardian: “Historic policies in England tried to get us to produce food everywhere. But now we are realising that we can increase our average yield by stopping growing food in areas of land that aren’t productive, and in these areas we can make space for nature. We know there are benefits from having more nature in the farm, we know we can improve farm biodiversity without affecting yields.”