Crop field

Businesses and charities partner to restore nature and maintain food security

WWF, RSPB, National Trust and CEOs of Tesco and NatWest among leaders calling for business community to take action to help restore the natural world
09 June 2023 , Kerry Taylor-Smith

Henry Dimbleby warns that unless the UK changes its food production processes, it will be unable to sustain the population in future

The UK’s food system has driven a decline in biodiversity according to a partnership of charities, farmers and business leaders raising awareness of the need to be nature positive in agriculture.

Biodiversity has almost halved since the industrial revolution thanks to intensified and industrialised farming driven by market pressures and government subsidies. A new film, Hungry for Change, produced by the WWF, RSPB, National Trust and Silverback Films, explores this issue and offers solutions available to farmers to prioritise biodiversity while cutting back on food loss.

“The way we produce food is imperilling our ability to produce enough food," said former Defra advisor Henry Dimbleby MBE. "If we don’t change our food system, our unsustainable food system, we won’t be able to feed ourselves in the future."

The partnership of the WWF, RSPB and the National Trust, the CEOs of Tesco, NatWest and Triodos Bank and the chair of the John Lewis Partnership wants the business community to embrace the opportunities that will arise from restoring the natural world, recognise they need nature to function, and support producers making nature-friendly food.

“There’s undoubtedly the feeling that it’s either nature or food production, and never the twain shall meet, and I think it’s the complete opposite of that,” said Neil Heseltine, tenant of the National Trust at Hill Top Farm, Malham, Yorkshire. “I think it’s really important that food retailers look for different methods of production that are better for the environment and nature.”

Emma Pollitt, Policy and Advocacy Officer at Wildfowl & Wetlands Trusts said: “Environmental charities such as ours cannot tackle the nature and biodiversity crises alone. We’ve lost 75% of the UK’s wildlife-rich wetlands over the past 300 years, so we must act now.” 

The charity’s Blue Recovery Leaders Group is “leading the way in engaging stakeholders, from other business leaders to customers and tenant farmers, in the action they can take for nature and, crucially, why they should,” said Pollitt. “We need more businesses taking this approach in order to tackle the nature and biodiversity crises.”

But businesses cannot do it alone; they need the support of enabling policies that allow farmers to transition to nature-positive and net-zero practices, the group stresses. 

Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England said: We’re now at five minutes to midnight... now is the time to take an integrated approach, whereby nature recovery migrates to the centre of economic thinking.”

There are concerns that government schemes, intended to support practices that conserve and restore nature while maintaining food security, are not enough to incentivise farmers to protect nature.

“[A farming system that balances wildlife with crop production is] good for our bank balance, good for our carbon footprint and good for the natural environment.”

Patrick Barker, farmer at Lodge Farm in Suffolk says a farming system that balances wildlife with crop production is possible: “It’s good for our bank balance, it’s good for our carbon footprint and it’s good for the natural environment and our farmland wildlife.”

Richard Bramley, NFU Environment Forum Chair says farmers are passionate about protecting the great British countryside, having spent £100 million on agri-environment schemes and industry-led initiatives over the last 20 years.

He said, “While we share many of the plans to boost nature recovery, we simply ask for them to sit alongside equally ambitious plans for food production to protect and enhance the UK’s food security. As recent months have shown, food supply chains are fragile, but we can and must do more, supported by the right policy framework that values both quality, sustainable food and the environment in which it is produced.”

Image credit: Shutterstock

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