Organic farming increases biodiversity, says review

October 13, 2004

Brussels, 12 Oct 2004

A scientific review of biodiversity studies carried out in Europe, Canada, New Zealand and the US has concluded that organic farming methods benefit biodiversity at every level of the food chain - from bacteria to bats.

In a review of 76 studies of the wildlife found on organic and equivalent non-organic farms, researchers from English Nature and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) found that in most cases organic farms have more individual wild animals and/or plants.

'This study shows that organic farming can encourage farmland wildlife,' said Sue Armstrong Brown, head of agriculture policy at the RSPB. 'The findings should hearten those already managing organic farms with wildlife in mind, and inspire others keen to reap the benefits of organic methods.'

Previous research has already shown that organic farming can benefit wildlife, but it is the suggestion that such methods can have a positive influence on biodiversity all the way up the food chain which makes this latest review unique.

In the majority of the studies that the team reviewed, biodiversity was measured by species, from bacteria and plants to mammals and birds, on either organic or conventional farms. Of 99 comparisons, 66 suggested that organic farming increased biodiversity, eight showed that it decreased biodiversity, and 25 proved inconclusive.

The researchers concluded that there are three main reasons for organic farming's positive influence on wildlife: it does not make use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides; it implies more sympathetic management of unfarmed environments such as hedges, ditches and ponds; and there is a greater tendency for organic farms to be mixed livestock and arable enterprises, providing the range of different habitats that wildlife needs to thrive on farms.

For example, one of the reviewed studies revealed the benefits of organic farming for bats. It showed that foraging activity by bats was 84 per cent higher on organic farms, while two species in particular - the greater and lesser horseshoe bats - were only found on organic farmland.

It is even possible that this latest research has underestimated the benefits of organic farming on biodiversity. According to Phillip Grice, a member of the research team, some of the studies he and his colleagues reviewed looked at farms only a short time after they became organic, so plant and animal numbers may have only just begun to increase.

Alastair Rutherford, head of agriculture at English Nature, concluded: 'This study confirms that consumers can be confident that by demanding and buying produce from organic farms in England they will help reverse the declining fortunes of our farmland wildlife.'

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CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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