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Sustainable Intensification research and Agri-Environment: win-win for sharing resources

The global population is rapidly expanding, increasing pressure on our finite resources and ability to produce food. In addition the food that we do have is not currently in the areas where it is needed most. We are facing a huge global challenge and need to respond by changing the way we farm, how much we farm and the food we eat. Appropriate management of the remaining resources we have left, is critical in ensuring that everyone gets the food they require without causing further damage to the environment.

Siobhan Sherry works within Defra’s land use evidence team and is investigating the best way to collect the right data and evidence to support policy decisions on sustainable farming and land management.

Sustainable Intensification Research Platform (SIP)

One project Siobhan’s team has been working on is the Defra and Welsh Government funded Sustainable Intensification Research Platform (SIP), to explore how the UK can increase farm output and competitiveness to aid global food security, while protecting the countryside and enhancing the environment and social benefits. Sustainable intensification enables local income increase, regional water and air quality improvements and global action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural land.

Currently SIP is focusing on two strands: farm-scale, and landscape-scale sustainable intensification. At farm scale, scientists are researching how farmers can increase their food production and enhance their surrounding natural environment. Examples include introducing cover crops in winter to reduce soil exposure and erosion into water courses, improving resource use efficiency, controlling pests and diseases, providing habitats for biodiversity and reducing pollution. At a landscape scale, Defra has created a Dynamic Landscape Tool for internal use which is able to highlight areas where increased crop yields, biodiversity and rural employment can be achieved through sustainable intensification. This will allow the delivery of ecosystem services, productive and profitable farming businesses and biodiversity across the UK.

Agri-Environment Schemes – win, win solutions

Another project Siobhan’s team are leading is the European funded agri-environment schemes, providing funding to farmers and land managers to farm in a way that supports biodiversity, enhances the landscape, and improves the quality of water, air and soil. Agreements include planting hedgerows to provide habitats and create flood barriers, enhancing habitats home to rare native species and sowing wildflowers in arable field margins to promote pollinators. Siobhan’s team are responsible for the research and evidence gathering surrounding these agreements, to review their success and inform future scheme development.

Siobhan's role involves working with scientists developing the latest technologies, informing policy makers, and actively contributing science and evidence to tackle the UK’s largest challenges. Global food security and environmental damage are increasing threats, and Siobhan’s team are at the centre of making sure that the right science is available to inform policy decisions, to protect and make good use of what we have left.

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