La Societe is concerned regarding the loss of agricultural land to domestic curtilage.
Whilst it welcomes the DPAs commitment to enhancing biodiversity in development, it doesn’t believe that allowing the loss of agricultural land should be endorsed even if land owners are encouraged to enhance biodiversity.
The spread of gardens has been measured through successive habitat surveys of the island and has, in many instances, led to the loss of important habitats and associated wildlife. For example, species rich grasslands have declined from 446ha in 1999 to 93ha in 2018, much of the loss has been caused by intensive management.
Whilst certain agricultural practices can also cause harm to the environment, the conversion of large areas of the islands countryside to gardens is not likely to lead to an increase in biodiversity as many gardens are intensively managed. They are often planted or sown with non-native plants which at best will provide some shelter or food for local species, but at worst may become invasive leading to wide reaching environmental implications (such as Japanese knotweed or sour fig).
The loss of agricultural land may also lead to increasingly intensified management of the land which remains available to the dairy industry. Land owners are often willing to pay large sums for fields if it can be subsumed into their curtilage thus driving up the cost of agricultural fields. As most dairy farmers rent large proportions of their grazing land, this in turn will mean farmers will need increase their yields to offset this cost and so are often forced to increase their inputs and introduce more intensive practices.
Whilst many current agricultural practices are damaging to the environment, farms such as the RSPBs Hope Farm have shown that it is possible to farm with nature. And so Guernsey can have both a thriving dairy industry and a biodiverse countryside – but only if there is sufficient land to allow these management practices to be introduced.