Since the industrial revolution began in the 1800s, our farming industry has been steadily picking up speed as our population grows and food demands increase. This means that more hedgerows and wildflower meadows are being lost to intensive food production. Chemicals are used to kill and control weeds, but are all weeds bad? ‘Weeds’ is often the term most people use for plants that are in the wrong place. Many ‘weeds’ are actually British native wildflowers. We have ploughed and levelled out wildflower areas to be replaced by intensive agriculture systems or housing developments. Unfortunately, these ‘weeds’ often provide food and shelter for many insect predators such as lacewings and ladybirds. These little soldiers hungrily feed on pests such as aphids and keep the insect pest population numbers under control. Without the presence of these insect predators, more chemicals are used to kill the pests to ensure the highest crop productivity. But this comes at a price, not just financially. Insects are near the bottom of the food chain, and they support a myriad of insect-eating creatures including birds, bats and amphibians and small rodents like the adorable dormouse. These then become food for larger predators. And when they reach their end of life, they, in turn, become food for a different set of invertebrates and other wildlife.
Globally, we see acres of farmland set aside for crops. 80% of cultivated land is used to produce animal feed. And only 20% is used directly for producing food for human consumption. These cultivated landscapes consist of a monoculture of plants, that is a wide area of one species of plant that we cultivate for food. Wheat, rice and palm oil amongst others are cultivated in this way.
If a disease enters an ecosystem, it can kill an individual, but it would be controlled as biodiversity ensures that the disease does not spread any further. In a monocultural environment, the disease can quickly take over if left unchecked.
On an allotment you would always plant a mixture of different vegetables, that way if slugs or aphids attack one crop you have other crops as a backup. You would also companion plant other vegetables to help discourage pests. In an orchard, sometimes bees are hired to help pollinate the flowers for the fruit trees to be able to produce fruit. A cost-effective way to manage an orchard is to establish wildflower strips within the orchard that encourage pollinators to fertilise the fruit trees and increase yield. The introduction of wildflower areas also creates an ecosystem that helps to keep insect pest populations down.
For more information on ecosystem services and application of wildflower area please contact ACD at firstname.lastname@example.org