Optimising nature conservation outcomes for a given region-wide level of food production

No Thumbnail Available
Change log
Finch, Tom 
Massimino, Dario 
Peach, Will J 

The land sharing-sparing framework aims to quantify the trade-off between food production and biodiversity conservation, but it has been criticised for offering, for reasons of simplicity, an unrealistically limited set of different land uses. Here, we develop the framework to evaluate a much larger suite of land-use strategies in which the areas and yields of three land-use compartments, natural habitat, high-yield farmland, and lower-yield farmland, are varied simultaneously. For two regions of England, we use functions that relate the local population density of breeding bird species to farm yield to simulate species-specific region-wide population sizes under each strategy. We find that average population sizes averaged across all species are maximised when farmland yields are higher than the current average, sparing land for a combination of both natural habitat and low-yield farmland. This conclusion is relatively insensitive to the maximum yield considered feasible under extreme land sparing, and holds across a range of region-wide food production targets. To some extent, our conclusion depends on which species groups were included in the assessment. Considered alone, farmland birds preferred a strategy with little or no natural habitat. Nonetheless, the optimal strategy was broadly consistent across all widely-recognised listings of species of conservation concern. Our study suggests that in long-farmed agricultural landscapes with little remaining natural habitat, such as are found in lowland England, conservation outcomes are likely to be maximised by mixed strategies in which high-yield production enables an increase in area of both natural habitat and low-yield farmland elsewhere in the region.

agriculture, birds, conservation, land sharing, land sparing, land-use, food production
Journal Title
Journal of Applied Ecology
Conference Name
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
All rights reserved
This study was funded by the RSPB, the Isaac Newton Trust (research grant RG85918) and Natural England (project code ECM 52869).