An evaluation of the contribution of beef and sheep production to landscape and biodiversity

Project number:                    74309

Lead contractors:                 ADAS UK Ltd

Start & end date:                   January 2010 – September 2010

 

The Problem:

Beef and sheep production provide “public Goods as well as beef and lamb.  Society enjoy the benefits of these public goods in the form of landscape and biodiversity but there financial value of these is difficult to quantify.

 

Project Aims:

To use existing published data sources to make estimates of the value of beef and sheep production to the recognised public goods of landscape and biodiversity.

The report would also include an analysis of the different approaches applied to valuations systems with a critique of their strengths and weaknesses.

 

Approach:

A literature review was conducted by an ADAS project team.  The team included an economist, beef and sheep specialists and landscape and biodiversity specialists.

 

Results:

A summary of the results are published in the Testing the water: The English beef and sheep production roadmap – Phase 2.

While beef and sheep production is recognised as having an important influence on landscape, biodiversity and other significant ecosystem services provided by the English hills and uplands in particular, quantifying the industry’s contribution in these key respects is especially difficult.

As part of determined sustainability-improving, a benchmarking assessment of beef and sheep production’s value to landscape and biodiversity has been undertaken by ADAS to inform this roadmap.

 

Valuing ecosystem services

The most comprehensive evaluation of the state of the global environment to date – the United Nations Millennium Ecosystem Assessment – classifies the many and varied services provided by the ecosystems on which society relies for its health and well-being into four distinct groups:

  • Supporting services, such as soil formation, photosynthesis and other primary production systems and nutrient and water cycling which underpin the production of all other ecosystem services
  • Provisioning services, relating to the products actually supplied, including food, fibre, fuel, genetic resources, biochemicals, natural medicines, pharmaceuticals
    and fresh water
  • Regulating services, encompassing the benefits secured from the way ecosystems regulate the climate, air quality, flooding, erosion, diseases, pests and other natural hazards, as well as the purifying of water and enabling pollination
  • Cultural services which cover the non-material value obtain by society through spiritual enrichment, education, reflection, recreation and aesthetic experiences.

 For the purposes of this report landscape is defined as an area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and human factors.

Biodiversity, in turn, is defined as the variability among living organisms from all sources including terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part. This definition includes diversity within species, between species and amongst ecosystems.

The maintenance of many of England’s most valuable ecosystems – grasslands in general and hill and upland environments in particular – fundamentally depends on beef and sheep production.

Without a thriving beef and sheep industry, man-made elements of recognised landscape and biodiversity value, like mosaics of interconnecting and enhancing hedges, ditches and walls would cease to be maintained, viable rural communities, and stewardship schemes that enhance countryside and environmental value for society, could not be delivered.

There are no existing valuation studies specifically investigating the effect of beef or sheep farming on either the landscape or biodiversity, certainly not within the United Kingdom.

 

Landscape valuation

Two separate approaches are taken to valuing the contribution of beef and sheep farming to the English landscape.

The first is based on the Environmental Accounts for Agriculture (known as the Accounts) published by Defra to provide a framework for measuring and valuing the positive and negative impacts of agriculture on the environment.

Employing data from the 2007 Countryside Surveys, the Accounts use a model bringing together information from many different valuation studies to attribute values to key habitats and linear features like hedges, ditches and stonewalls.

They employ a number of techniques that are open to challenge as far as accuracy is concerned. For instance, they assume the benefits of a feature in one part of the country can be directly transferred to another. In addition, they apportion 100% of the value of landscapes to agriculture. Importantly, they also take no account of the so-called non-use (or feel-good) values – those that derive from knowledge the landscape is present, available for others to enjoy and can be passed on to future generations.

In line with valuation studies in general, the Accounts accept the general consensus that there are significant positive flows from current agricultural landscapes which are for the most part under-estimated.

For 2008, the Accounts value English agriculture’s landscape contribution to society at around £154 million per annum.

As approximately 41.5% of the farmed area of the country is accounted for by beef and sheep production, this suggests the industry delivers an annual landscape value of around £64 million (Table 10).

With latest Defra information showing 96% of beef and sheep farmers undertake countryside maintenance and management work it is not unreasonable to assume such a significant landscape value contribution.

Indeed, the fact that beef and sheep production tends to be concentrated on the hill and upland landscapes, arguably makes it more valuable in the ecosystem services they provide than many other farmed areas. This implies that they should be credited with an even greater contribution than a simple linear apportionment of the whole.

Alongside the Accounts approach, the ADAS study also considers the value of beef and sheep farming in the wider economy and examines Gross Value Added (GVA) data from Yorkshire’s National Parks, and tourist expenditure information for the South West and National Parks more widely as separate case studies.

GVA gives a market value for the landscape’s direct use by businesses in an area calculated from their turnover and the extent to which they depend directly or indirectly on the environment.

Tourist expenditure is also a direct-use valuation tool. It includes only the money spent by visitors within an area not the cost of getting to it.

Again there are a number of clear limitations to both GVA and tourist spend valuations. Not least the fact that the former includes all agricultural outputs and the latter only accounts for visitors and not those who live there or those who consider the area to have value without visiting.

Based on the proportions of land within each area devoted to beef and sheep farming, the separate case studies suggest the industry delivers a landscape value of £188 million to Yorkshire National Parks, £353 million to the South West and £889 million to English National Parks as a whole (Table 10).

Because they involve regions of particular appeal for their scenery and recreation, it is clearly inappropriate to use these figures to estimate a national value.

They do, however, indicate that English beef and sheep production is likely to be making a considerably higher contribution to the economy on the basis of their management of the landscape than suggested by the Accounts approach.

 

Biodiversity valuation

In the absence of other mechanisms, the Environmental Accounts for Agriculture provides the best available basis for assessing the biodiversity value attributed to English beef and sheep farming.

Tourist revenues are considered inappropriate given the extent to which biodiversity underpins ecosystem services as a whole rather than being a definable service itself.

As well as valuing key aspects of agriculture’s contribution to the landscape, the Accounts assess the biodiversity value it delivers through both the maintenance and management of habitats, primarily Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and farm woodland, and individual species, primarily farmland birds.

The Accounts caution that their biodiversity valuations come with a high degree of uncertainty, not least because they are based on so few elements of the whole biodiversity equation.

However, as for the value of landscape, the clear view is that resolving these uncertainties would cause the figures to be revised upwards rather than downwards.

As with the landscape valuation, the most straight-forward way of attributing the £704 million of total biodiversity benefits in the Accounts for English farming to beef and sheep production is on the basis of its share of the farmed area.

This gives an industry value of around £292 million (Table 11).

The multi-faceted nature of biodiversity, however, means that this method of apportionment may be inappropriate. The biodiversity value of hill and upland farming areas is, for instance, widely regarded as very much higher than that of
most areas of arable monoculture.

Under these circumstances, pesticide usage figures could provide a better way of apportioning value. They are, after all, alleged to be one of the major contributors to biodiversity loss. Equally, they almost certainly represent a good indicator of the intensity of agriculture which is generally considered to be inversely proportional to its biodiversity.

The latest Pesticide Usage Survey (2006) shows a total of 21 million kg of product applied to agricultural land in England, of which 0.55 million kg (less than 3%) is applied to grassland.

On this basis of the extent to which it uses the products that intensify agriculture and reduce biodiversity, it could be assumed that approximately 97% of agriculture’s total biodiversity value comes from grassland farming.

Adjusting this for the 84% of the grazing area used by beef and sheep farming and assuming these enterprises use as much pesticide as dairying – which is unlikely – gives an Accounts biodiversity value of around £574 million (Table 11).

As one of their main aims is to protect and enhance farm-based wildlife, the uptake
of agri-environment schemes provides another way of apportioning the £704 million total Accounts biodiversity value

This can be done either on the basis of the proportion of farms undertaking such schemes or the proportion of boundary, buffer, tree and woodland schemes being undertaken.

Depending on the basis employed, the biodiversity value attributed to beef and sheep farming of between £204 and £218 million (Table 11).