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Promoting Biodiversity & Alternative Food Crops

Whether you’re producing an alternative food product built around biodiversity, farming in a way that proactively encourages biodiversity or introducing a new on-farm enterprise to highlight biodiversity to both the general public and collaborating farmers, there are many opportunities to showcase and support the importance of improved biodiversity.

An increasing number of consumers care about our planet and how the products they buy are produced, packaged, distributed and sold.  One way this manifests itself is in ‘sustainability’ concerns, including environmental sustainability and therefore biodiversity.  This also includes net zero and carbon footprint concerns, the positive management of which all support biodiversity.

And just as consumers are looking to food for functional wellness and health & wellbeing, there is a trend towards a ‘life well-lived’.  This is about life-slower and self-indulgence in terms of getting out into nature, slowing down and getting a better balance.  This is a major opportunity for farmers looking to develop alternative enterprises on-farm.  Life well-lived includes an increased interest in provenance and a growth in the awareness of wildfoods, primal fitness, almost a rewilding of the mind.

Watch the recording of 'Biodiversity and alternative food products webinar' held early in November 2021 with Marian Bruce (Highland Boundary), Sascha Grierson (Grierson Organic), and Davy McCracken (SRUC).

The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in many consumers reassessing what is important.  Some of the longer lasting consumption and activity impacts include a growth in mindfulness – ethical & caring, wellness and almost a back-to-basics.  Self-care and the growth of local and an appreciation of our natural environment are now more important, as is that sense or creation of ‘community’.

When thinking about diversifying, being market-led and researching your idea is as crucial, as is being brave enough to ‘go for it’.  Thinking about your product's / service’s life cycle and the impact of production & delivery is not only important but should be a key element of your story.  Innovation linked to the key drivers of consumer behaviour is critical.

How have other farmers benefitted from boosting biodiversity?

Watch the recording of 'How to plan and develop new crops and products into your farming system webinar' held in November 2021 with Mads Fischer-Moller (Professor in Food Policy, SRUC), Ceri Ritchie (Food & Footprint Consultant, SAC Consulting) and Alex Pirie (Agricultural & Biodiversity Consultant, SAC Consulting)

Boosting biodiversity to build business: Highland Boundary

Highland Boundary Wild Scottish Spirits is a new generation of Scottish spirits, born on the farm, and capturing the flavours of the Scottish wilderness, botanicals and wild. Marian and Simon’s farm lies on the Highland Boundary Fault and this inspired them to develop a range of products based on botanicals from the Highlands with grain spirit from the South. This video explores how they have encouraged wildlife and biodiversity through innovation and imagination. Driven by flavour, their products really are a taste of the countryside, and they connect people with the environment.

Boosting biodiversity to build business: Newmiln Farm

Hugh Grierson farms Newmiln Farm, a mixed organic farm in Perthshire. The farm now consists of beef cattle, pigs, chickens, wheat and oats. The meat produced on the farm is sold through the farm butchery and shop - Hugh Grierson Organic. Both Hugh and his customers enjoy the enhanced flavour of the products as a result of the diverse diets that the animals feed on. In this video Hugh gives us an introduction to his farming system and how his holistic management interlinks between the enterprises to enhance the sustainability of his farm business.

Boosting biodiversity to build business: The flower field

This short video of N J McWilliam’s The Flower Field showcases how innovative farm diversification has worked for both the farm and biodiversity. In the video you’ll hear Kym McWilliam talk about their two Flower field locations and the spring and summer flower fields. Watch to see how this farm has diversified into a new enterprise that supports biodiversity, links it to the local community and how The Flower Field works collaboratively with other like-minded farmers and Scottish flower growers.

Understanding the decline in nature

The reality of biodiversity loss is that:

  • Up to 1 million species are threatened with extinction, many within decades
  • There has been a 70% increase since 1970 in numbers of invasive alien species across 21 countries that have detailed records
  • There has been a 30% reduction in global terrestrial habitat integrity caused by habitat loss and deterioration
  • Over 33% of the world’s land surface (and 75% of freshwater resources) are devoted to crop or livestock production

Businesses built around managing biodiversity make it central to everything they do and often refer to the 'inter-relatedness of nature'. On-farm biodiversity-positive enterprise development can be built around product development and/or collaboration with other farmers to product a product or a consumer experience, and it should involve the community where possible.

A robin standing alert on a hedge.

The Scottish Government have expressed a desire to see the provision of public goods from Scottish farmers, smallholders, crofters and landowners; and in line with the trends noted above Scottish and visiting consumers will expect to see this too, whether as a result of raw material production, final product production or enterprise provision.

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Find out more: Visit our 'Improving biodiversity on your farm' webpage for more ideas of how to incorporate small changes that will lead to increases in biodiversity on your farm, croft or smallholding, or watch our webinar recording with Donal Sheenan from the BRIDE project in Ireland, explaining how to improve habitats on the farm.

Biodiversity to benefit the climate

The COP26 conference resulted in net zero pledges and key commitments from a range of economic sectors.  There is emerging global consensus around dietary diversity and positive agro-ecological practices to meet global climate, health and biodiversity targets.  In the UK, and at home in Scotland, the policy & strategic landscape supports reducing food waste, breaking the ‘junk food cycle’ and embracing nature.  See our COP26 webpage.

Competitor countries are embracing the opportunity with pledges for ‘less but better meat’ and the Taste Pure Nature origin brand being used as a global brand platform to underpin the red meat story for New Zealand’s exporters’ marketing programmes to enhance to positioning of red meat.

Top Tips

  • View your rural environment as an opportunity to benefit and build resilience to your business
  • 'Biodiversity and farming' is not an either/or decision, they can beneficially work together
  • A farm environment assessment is a worthwhile tool, providing a baseline - showing what assets you have, their condition and can highlight what options are available to you
  • Identify your business priorities and consider how you can build the ‘nature value’ of your farm, smallholding or croft.
  • With correct management the biodiversity on your farm or croft will increase e.g. diverse cropping leads to an increased diversity of insects and larger mammals; trees and hedges support a wide range of insect and bird life as well as serving providing many other benefits to the farm
  • View your farm as an interconnected 'biological system' - what is the impact of adding or taking away something?  How will it affect other habitats and species in the area?
  • Assess consumer and market demands - how can you deliver to meet new demands?
  • Start small - making smaller changes reduces the business risk
  • Nature restoration projects can take a long time to fully develop so be patient.
  • Be aware that some funding sources come with conditions that are less than ideal for your project

How can FAS help you?

  • Integrated Land Management Plans (ILMPs) - An Integrated Land Management Plan (ILMP) is your pathway to a sustainable and profitable future. Setting out your vision for your farm or croft, it provides a clear, achievable, step by step action plan that will take you there. Take advantage of government funding to create a sustainable and profitable future for your farm or croft.  Find out more.

  • Carbon Audit - Farms with a low carbon footprint are often the most efficient and profitable. Does your farm have a low carbon footprint? Do you know the size of your carbon footprint? Do you know how you compare to other farm business? If not, then apply to receive support for a carbon audit up to £500 today.  Find out more.
  • Mentoring for new farmers and crofters - If you are considering becoming a farmer or crofter, or have set up business in the last five years, then you are entitled to free support through the Farm Advisory Service’s mentoring programme.  Find out more.

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