Harper Adams and Morrisons to examine habitats on the UK’s farms

A new PhD studentship for the University’s School of Sustainable Food and Farming will be supervised by Harper Adams academics, with Morrisons – one of the School’s founding partners – as a partner, funding the post and offering its researcher access to supplier farms.

The post will see a research student working on three farms, each a WM Morrisons supplier with ambitions to achieve Net Zero carbon emissions through the adoption of a range of low emission measures. They will develop measurements, and ultimately a tool, to describe the biodiversity of each of the farms-with the work also capturing how their journey to Net Zero affects each farm’s ability to support biological diversity.

The three farms will be the Harper Adams Future Farm, a LEAF Innovation Farm which surrounds the Shropshire-based University, and two Net Zero Agri farms, including a lowland and an upland farm which currently supply Morrisons.

The post will receive academic supervision by Harper Adams Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Michael Lee and Dr Julia Casperd, Lecturer in Wildlife Conservation, Environmental Land Management and Zoology, with Scott Kirby, Executive Project and Programme Consultant on the Harper Adams Future Farm as farm advisor.

The successful PhD researcher will use each farm as a tool to develop a simple, replicable and low cost tool for farmers to both baseline and track the changes in biodiversity on their farms. The study will particularly focus on how the adoption of technology, such as drones and electronic sensors able to measure biodiversity indicators such as pollen, could also be used by farmers who want to quantify on-farm biodiversity.

The study will also examine current policies and opportunities for landowners to realise economic value from increases in biodiversity – and demonstrating the potential of the tool in showing this value will be a critical element of the research.

Dr Julia Casperd, who also serves as Chair of the Harper Adams Environmental Sustainability Land and Soil Farm Group, said “As we negotiate the current mass extinction event, with an estimated loss of 10,000 species per year, it has never been more important to focus on protecting nature.

“The UK Government’s newly published Environment Improvement Plan sets out its goals to do this by restoring and creating habitats across our UK landscapes to promote gains in biodiversity.

“Its ambitious target is to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030 and restore or create 500,000 ha of wildlife rich habitats outside protected sites. With more than 70% of land in the UK used for agriculture, there is an inherent emphasis on farmed land, reducing the impact of human activity which has led to habitat loss and global warming by working with landowners and farmers to adopt nature friendly farming.

“This PhD aims to explore how sustainable farming systems, adopted in the process of transitioning to carbon Net Zero by reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions and offsetting their carbon footprint, influence biodiversity.

“It will exploit the fantastic agri-tech and interdisciplinary opportunities and facilities provided by Harper Adams University to design simple ways to measure on-farm biodiversity.

“These will feed into a simple-to-use tool for farmers and landowners to accurately determine the level and value of their natural assets. This will be an important resource as farms increasingly look to develop alternative income streams from ecosystem services such as carbon nutrients and biodiversity units.”

The development of the PhD has seen the School of Sustainable Farming and Morrisons working closely together – and Sophie Throup, Technical and Sustainability Director at Morrisons, is keen to see the research get underway.

She said “Many farmers are already taking steps to improve the biodiversity balance on their farms. As we support the path to ‘Net Zero’ emissions farming within a sustainable production system, we’re really interested to understand how the relationship between Net Zero and biodiversity works.

“For example, how does increasing sequestration through improving soil structures and carbons, planting trees and hedgerows and introducing multisward grazing paddocks also improve the biodiversity counts on farms? It’s fascinating and important work for British agriculture”

Simon Thelwell, Director of the School of Sustainable Food and Farming, added “When the School was launched – with Morrisons as a founding partner – we knew we wanted it to work with industry, to work with farmers, and to set out ways in which we can lead the sector forward.

“This PhD – which will increase our understanding of the effect Net Zero farming has upon our farms and their biodiversity – will do all three and is a hugely exciting opportunity.”

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