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Utilising and improving the potential of agri-environment schemes for wildlife and ecosystem services

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15 October 2013, 11am: Free
at the James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen
for scientists, students and other interested parties
John Holland

Dr John Holland, Head of Farmland Ecology at the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) will give this seminar "Utilising and improving the potential of agri-environment schemes for wildlife and ecosystem services" at the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen. It will be broadcast live to the Dundee site.


GWCT is a research, education and advisory charity working to provide a scientific basis for wildlife management. In the Farmland Ecology Unit the focus is on species inhabiting lowland farms and in particular invertebrates.

Data from our long-term monitoring of invertebrates and plants in Sussex (since 1970) and Leicestershire (since 1992) show substantial declines in some invertebrate groups and these may be responsible for declines in farmland birds. Recent studies have investigated the relationship between the type of uncropped habitats, the proportion and layout and levels of biodiversity. Ongoing studies aim to improve our understanding of agri-environment habitats and to develop new options.

The Trust has conducted research on farmland wildlife since the late 1960s and this has included ecological studies of individual species, habitats, systems and long-term changes. Unfortunately, post-war agricultural changes have diminished biodiversity on lowland farms, driven by government policy and European Union subsidy. However, our research has identified ways of reversing this loss of biodiversity without reversing improvements to farming systems.

Our studies include: improving the conditions for biodiversity in cereal crops, exploring tillage methods to reduce diffuse pollution and soil erosion, examining the ability of predatory insects to control outbreaks of pest insects in cereals, developing field margins to improve songbird numbers, (see for instance conservation headland), and even looking at the wildlife potential of novel crops like short-rotation coppice.

An article celebrating work carried out by the Trust in this area has been published on the National Geographic’s website, under their Nat Geo News Watch blogs. It documents how the Trust’s research has worked to improve farmland biodiversity over the 50 years since the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which in 1962 alerted the world to the devastating effects of the toxic chemicals in use at that time. Rachel Carson cited the Trust (then The Game Research Association) twice, acknowledging their scientific evidence for the impact on UK wildlife.


John studied Horticulture at Reading in the early 1980s, then after working on a farm for a year, studied for an MSc in Integrated Pest Management at Southampton University. He next went to New Zealand where for his PhD he investigated why spider mite resurgence occurred following pyrethroid insecticides. He joined the Game Conservancy Trust in 1992 to work on an Integrated Farming Systems project and when that completed in 1998 became Head of Entomology.

Since then he has worked on a number of other large collaborative projects that have involved investigating the ecology of insects on farmland with the aim of understanding the impacts of farming practices or to develop techniques to enhance their numbers.

Much of this work has focussed on two groups of insects, beneficial insects and those important in the diet of farmland birds. Many studies were conducted on the spatial distribution of insects on farmland in relation to within field and surrounding attributes (weed cover, soils and non-crop habitats) in order to identify the controlling factors and so aid the development of management techniques. The scale of these studies extended over time from single fields to landscapes.

Alongside these a range of studies were conducted to evaluate the efficacy of different types of natural enemy. He is currently coordinator for the QUESSA FP7 project that aims to quantify the impact of semi-natural habitats on key ecosystem services such as pest control and pollination. He is currently convenor of the International Organisation of Biological Control working group “Landscape Management for Functional Biodiversity” and the Royal Entomological Society “Sustainable Agriculture Group”. He has authored or co-authored more than 120 scientific publications.

The seminar is being hosted by Dr Glenn Iason.

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.