The biggest ever review into whether organic farming benefits wildlife has taken place – and the findings are clear – organic farms have on average nearly a third more different species of wildlife. The researchers stated in the report that:
“organic methods could undoubtedly play a major role in halting the continued loss of diversity from industrialised nations”.
Researchers from the University of Oxford undertook a review of nearly 100 separate studies from all round the world. They completed a meta-analysis – a rigorous review which means that findings can be summarised and put through statically robust testing.
The review shows that the same thing has been repeatedly found over the past 30 years of research – organic farms have on average around a third more species of wildlife.
The study found that on average, non-organic farms have around 50% fewer species of pollinators than organic farms.
Emma Hockridge, Soil Association head of policy commented: “This is fantastic news for wildlife and confirms what we have been saying for years. We are suffering dramatic losses of wildlife all over the world so to know that organic farms have on average a third more species shows just how great a difference you can make by supporting organic agriculture and buying organic food”.
“Our food systems are being threatened by the declines of bees and other pollinators – necessary for a third of the food that we eat. This research shows there is a clear solution for pollinators with a known outcome – support organic farming and we can have 50% more species of pollinators in our countryside. Yet in return for this, and many other benefits, UK organic farmers currently receive the lowest payments across the whole of the EU. We are urging the Government to redress this balance and ensure organic farmers in the UK are adequately supported in the new Common Agricultural Policy.
“We agree that there should be more specific research on the biodiversity benefits of organic agriculture in tropical and subtropical agriculture, but this fact should not stop people from buying organic chocolate and bananas. Large scale studies have shown that organic agriculture has huge benefits in developing countries.
“For example the IAASTD report, produced by 400 scientists and supported by 60 countries, recommends agroecology (such as organic farming) to maintain and increase the productivity of global agriculture. The largest study of agroecology in the Global South analysed 286 projects covering 37 million hectares in 57 countries, and found that on average crop yields increased by 79%. As a result, organic farming has the potential reduce the amount of land needed to produce food in developing countries.
“There is research to show the environmental benefits of moving to organic farming across the world. This is as a result of, for example, the lack of oil based inputs such as artificial fertiliser and of toxic pesticides. Organic systems can bring huge benefits for people, wildlife and the planet.”
- Organic farms have on average 34% more species than non-organic farms
- The effect varied for different groups of wildlife. For pollinators such as bees, the difference was greatest with the number of species 50% higher on organic farms
- The difference was greater for organic farms acting like ‘islands’, surrounded by a landscape of intensive farming and for organically grown cereals and mixed farming
- These findings have been robust over the last 30 years of published studies and shows no signs of diminishing
- This study didn’t look at abundance, only the number of species – though previous reviews have found wildlife is 50% more abundant on organic farms
- More research is needed to look at how much more wildlife is found in organic farms in tropical and sub-tropical countries and for soil biodiversity
Learn more and find out about the work that the Soil Association does for bees in our campaign Keep Britain Buzzing.