Going organic: Nature has the answer

At its heart, organic farming is about looking after nature so that nature can look after us. Hayley Coristine explains how the bees, birds, butterflies and all the other creatures that live on organic farms are protected.

Going organic: Nature has the answer

River Cottage garden

Ask people why they love organic food and you’ll be met with an assortment of reasons, from no GM ingredients or artificial additives to fewer pesticides. Some may say they love organic because it’s always free range and uses less antibiotics; others, because they believe organic food tastes better. But did you know that organic food and farming is also brilliant for nature and wildlife?

Wheat illustration

The organic ethos views soil, plants, animals and humans as interconnected, with each element necessary for the others to thrive. Rather than rely on pesticides (organic farming uses less and from natural sources), organic works with nature to develop healthier plants and soil. Farmers don’t use artificial herbicides or fertilisers, instead they boost nutrients in the soil by using a range of natural techniques to help promote plant growth and reduce soil contamination, which in turn helps wildlife to thrive.


Helen Browning's Farm, Swindon


Photos by Hayley Coristine

One such technique is crop rotation, which delivers nutrients back into the soil naturally and protects fields from pests and disease. This boosts earthworm numbers, they are the planet’s mini ploughs, which keep soils healthy by tunnelling down to let air and water reach plant roots. They’re also brilliant at recycling important nutrients, to keep plants growing well, and they help prevent soils from getting too waterlogged in the winter or parched in the summer.

Organic farms are packed with benefits above ground, too. Farmers don’t just look after their fields, they also look after important wildlife habitats like banks, ponds, grasslands, and hedgerows. Banks are great for ground-nesting birds like skylarks and corn buntings, and they’re the preferred habitat of many beneficial creepy-crawlies like spiders and beetles. These natural predators spend the winter in the bank before moving to the field in the springtime to feed on crop pests.

Hedgerows provide a safe haven for birds, insects and small mammals alike. They act as a link between habitats, providing both shelter and a safe route for hedgehogs, badgers and other animals to get from one place to another without having to cross open fields. Hedgerows are also great for bees, who love feasting on their flower nectar. Studies have even shown that bees use hedgerows as leafy highways when looking for nectar-rich plants! Hedgerows tend to be bigger and more diverse on organic farms, and farmers don’t cut their hedges between March and August to allow wildlife to thrive during the breeding season.

Handful of soil

OF&G National Organic Combinable Crops

Riverford Wash Farm

Riverford Wash Farm, Devon

This holistic approach helps connect nature to the farm and ensures that organic farms are true havens for wildlife. Research has found they have more wildlife and more biodiversity. On average, plant, insect and bird life is 50% more abundant on organic farms, with around 30% more species and larger bumblebee populations, in part due to the greater number of flowers that can be found.

That’s good news for our beloved British wildlife, which is facing many challenges - not least the loss of natural habitat and makes organic food and farming a great choice for nature lovers who want to do their bit to support the planet. When you choose organic, you choose food that’s been produced to the highest standards - with wildlife and nature in mind.

Want to do more? As well as choosing organic food you can help by avoiding slug pellets and other pesticides in your garden, which may be harmful to wildlife. Slugs may love your lettuce, but their main predators are hedgehogs, birds and frogs, and poisoned slugs and slug pellets may be harmful to wildlife and pets alike. There are loads of natural alternatives to slug pellets - not least encouraging some of your favourite wildlife into your backyard. Our friends at the Pesticide Action Network have produced a handy guide on the topic. Happy gardening!

Hayley Coristine

Hayley Coristine

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