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Warning from scientists over biodiversity in the UK – University of Reading

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Warning from scientists over biodiversity in the UK

Release Date 19 January 2007

Government policies to promote sustainable agriculture may fail to deliver, according to scientists at the University of Reading.

Scientists at the University's Centre for Agri-Environmental Research have produced a paper - to be published today (January 19 2007) in the journal Science – which describes a 'crystal ball' for biodiversity that allows us to predict how farmland biodiversity might look in 20 to 30 years time in response to decisions about farming taken today.

It warns that in the UK, agri-environment schemes - key Government policy to promote sustainable agriculture - might fail to deliver on its biodiversity objectives, placing at risk the considerable investment of public funds associated with these schemes. It also concludes that the impact of genetically modified crops on biodiversity in the UK might be considerably less than people originally feared.

The potential of this paper to help reduce future biodiversity losses associated with agriculture at national, continental and global levels is considerable.

Professor Ken Norris, Director of the Centre for Agri-Environmental Research at the University of Reading, who led the research, said: "Society's expectations of what we want from farmers have revolutionised over the past few years. Far from asking them to produce more food more quickly and more cheaply - we now ask that they produce food in a way that does not damage our wider environment.

"If this ambition is to succeed, we urgently need to develop tools that allow us to explore the future environmental consequences of food production decisions we take today. Instead of having to try to undo environmental problems after they have happened, we need to be able to anticipate problems and plan accordingly. This is the only way to ensure agriculture becomes sustainable."

Professor Norris worked with Dr Simon Butler, a Research Fellow at the University of Reading, who conducted the work and who is the lead author on the paper.

The research reported in the paper is part of a wider programme of work that has been taking place over the last two years that has brought together scientists from Rothamsted Research, the Universities of Reading, Southampton and Oxford, and conservation organisations (British Trust for Ornithology, Game Conservancy Trust) to develop a framework for assessing how biodiversity might respond to changes in farming in the UK.

The paper is the first of a number of key publications that will place the UK at the forefront of scientific research on sustainable agriculture and biodiversity.

Ends

Notes for editors:

Professor Ken Norris is available for interview. Please contact him direct on 07983 528414.

Dr Simon Butler is also available for interview. Please contact him direct on 07970 504174.

For any other information contact Lucy Ferguson, Senior Press Officer, on 0118 378 7388.

About the University of Reading:

The University of Reading is one of the foremost research-led universities in the UK. Founded in the nineteenth century and gaining a Royal Charter in 1926, we offer a wide range of programmes from the pure and applied sciences to languages, social sciences and fine art. New research and the latest thinking continually feed into undergraduate teaching, with our academic staff working at the forefront of their fields of expertise.

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