Open accessibilty tools

Farming and agriculture






Hart Mill Farm, Hartlepool c.1950 (Image courtesy of Hartlepool Borough Council)

Did you know…?

Nearly three-quarters of land in the UK is farmed.

Look closer at the photograph of Hart Mill Farm c.1950

  • What do students think is happening in the picture?
  • What might farmers use today instead of horses to harvest a crop?
  • Students could compare this with an image of modern day farming. How many similarities and differences can they see? Which type of farming do they think would be best for wildlife? Why?

More views of these horses and machinery, and the farm can be found here.

A modern view of the farm house and windmill can be found here.

Habitat loss is the main threat to our wildlife. It is causing the numbers of different species to decline – and sometimes become endangered. The biggest human impact on habitat loss is farming and agriculture.

How does farming affect habitat loss?

As humans, we rely on agriculture for our food, and we have been farming our land for centuries. But in recent decades, newer ‘intensive’ ways of farming (such as producing more crops by using machines and chemicals), coupled with meeting the needs of a growing population, has meant a greater impact on our wildlife.

Creating large fields for crop planting and livestock grazing means removing hedgerows, flower meadows and trees. The use of pesticides and fertilisers can poison rivers, air and soil. And when one species is affected, such as the fish in our rivers, that has a knock-on effect further up the food chain for other animals, like otters.

What can be done to help?

Happily, things are beginning to change. Toxic pesticides such as DDT, which were once widely used, are now banned.

Organisations such as The Wildlife Trusts are working with farmers and the government to find more sustainable ways of farming, including the planting of hedgerows, and giving over the borders of their fields to plant wildflowers for birds and bees.

A small, but growing number of farms are now organic. This means they stick to strict rules and find ways to benefit the whole ecosystem, such as encouraging birds, ladybirds and other insects to eat pests like aphids and slugs, in place of pesticides.

Local links

Farmers in North Yorkshire, who grow the peas that we buy frozen in our supermarkets, have been using a technique they call ‘pop-up rain forests’. This helps them to farm more sustainably and reduce their carbon footprint.

After harvesting the peas, the soil is bare and there is a risk of soil erosion, water loss, and of soil nutrients – like nitrogen – being washed into the local river by rain. Quickly planting a range of fast-growing plants (called a ‘cover crop’) after the ‘cash crop’ (in this case, the peas) has been harvested, reduces these problems.

The roots of the cover crop help to prevent ‘run off’ after heavy rainfall by holding the topsoil and its nutrients in place. Meanwhile, their leaves help capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The scheme has also helped to reduce flooding in the area by reducing the amount of rainwater flowing down fields and into the river.

Find out more

The Wildlife Trusts – supporting wildlife-friendly farming

BBC Bitesize – feeding the human race

Soil Association – what is organic?