Better land use, food security and biodiversity

Simon Fairlie, in his book Meat: A Benign Extravagance (2010), carried out basic calculations for several different agricultural systems in the UK to see how well Britain could feed itself. One of these scenarios was for a completely vegan (stockfree) organic system and he found that to feed a population of about 60 million, 7.3 million hectares of arable land would be needed (where 1 hectare of arable land feeds 8 people). In such a scenario, this leaves 11.2 million hectares of agricultural land spare (the total agricultural land area at the time was 18.5 million hectares). 

Seasoned stockfree organic grower Jenny Hall points out a variety of uses for this freed up land including forestry (timber, fuelwood, coppice), textile crops and orchards for fruits and nuts all of which would help make Britain more self-reliant in food and raw materials (The Land Magazine, Issue 5).

Harwatt and Hayek’s 2019 analysis came to the similar conclusion that Britain has enough existing arable land to meet its population’s protein and calorific needs from domestic plant-based food production, which would free up permanent grassland for the restoration of native forests to meet the UK’s climate mitigation goals. In Scotland, where 80% of agricultural land is permanently under grass, restoring this to its climax vegetation by natural succession would sequester the equivalent of 40 years of Scottish CO2 emissions based upon 2020 emission figures. The above authors cite several other benefits from such a transformation of land-use including flood attenuation, water filtration, increased resilience to climate change, and more habitats for wildlife.  In Britain, where 15% of species are threatened with extinction and 41% of species’ populations are in decline (The State of Nature 2019), restoring ecosystems for biodiversity is a matter of national emergency. 

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