This report details the results of a study commissioned by Natural England – it looks at how some of the options under the UK’s Environmental Stewardship scheme provide various ecosystem services which are important to agricultural production and productivity.
Their summary and conclusions are as follows:
This report contains a review of the ecosystem services provided by Environmental Stewardship (ES), the main agri-environmental scheme in England. It is particularly concerned with those that are of benefit to agricultural (especially crop) production, thus supporting the Defra departmental priority of supporting British farming and encouraging sustainable food production.
- Ecosystem services can be described as the full range of benefits that people and societies obtain from biological systems, including provisioning, regulating, cultural and supporting services.
- The report identifies ecosystem services associated with crop production benefits that can be provided by ES, describes the relationships between ES options and ecosystem services, scores options for their contribution to key ecosystem services and maps the provision of these services through ES across England.
- Key ecosystem services considered include soil formation, nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, water regulation and purification, genetic resources, pest regulation and pollination.
- Environmental Stewardship has the potential to enhance a range of ecosystem services of benefit to agricultural production, though relatively few options have been designed specifically with this purpose in mind. Exceptions are options to reduce soil erosion, nectar mixtures targeted at the enhancement of pollination services, and beetle banks (specifically designed to benefit natural enemies of pests and so enhance pest regulation). Many other options also contribute to these services, with multifunctionality frequently exhibited.
- There is scope for further development of options to extend the provision of ecosystem services. In particular, the availability of a wider range of options to provide floral resources for pollinators and pest predators (e.g. hoverflies) and parasitoids in entry level schemes, such as wild flower field margins, would be beneficial. There are no options designed to benefit wild crop relatives and this is an area much in need of further research. In contrast, there has been considerable development in recent years in terms of option provision to protect soils and reduce diffuse pollution of water.
- Although there is a large body of research evidence to show benefits in terms of ecosystem service delivery from ES options or similar management approaches, quantitative evidence of benefits is generally lacking. Further research is required to investigate the impact of ES, ideally at a range of scales, on ecosystem services of direct benefit to agricultural production. This should build on existing work to fill knowledge gaps and provide a more comprehensive understanding of what can be achieved. In particular, research on impacts at a landscape level, and the optimal location and arrangement of options within the landscape, should be a priority.
Natural England (2012). Ecosystem services from Environmental Stewardship that benefit agricultural production. Natural England Commissioned Report NECR102
You can download it here.