Changes in cattle and sheep farming profits have had a direct impact on the diversity of plants found on agricultural sites in the Highlands and Borders of Scotland, according to new research.
Studies of 11 areas of farm land revealed that there is less of a selection of plants and flowers than would have been present 400 years ago.
Using pollen found in preserved peat at the sites, researchers from the University of Stirling reconstructed profiles showing the levels of biodiversity found on the land across the decades.
The study showed that at points of time where livestock prices were high – and therefore more cattle and sheep were grazing on the land - biodiversity levels dipped.
These levels have a direct impact on the environment as higher biodiversity means the environment is more capable of dealing with variants such as climate change.
Nick Hanley, Professor of Environmental Economics at the University of Stirling who led the study, will present his findings at an event in Aberdeen this week (Wednesday 8 October) hosted by the Aberdeen Centre for Environmental Sustainability (ACES).
Professor Hanley said: "Samples of pollen were taken at each of the agricultural sites across the Highlands and Borders of Scotland. Most plants and flowers have a unique fingerprint in the pollen which they leave behind, which allowed us to identify the species which would have been found on the land at various points in time over the 400 year period.
"The findings showed that levels of biodiversity fell and rose in line with changes in the economic impact of livestock. Essentially when cattle and sheep prices were higher, farmers would stock higher levels of livestock - the impact of grazing would then cause a decrease in the variety of plants and flowers found on that land."
"Conserving biodiversity is an important goal for many governments and organisations as it directly impacts on how the environment deals with changes whilst also playing a key role in the provision of valuable ecosystem services. Greater levels of different species means that the environment is more equipped to cope with variations - such as climate change - than when biodiversity levels are lower.
"The findings of the study are relevant to how we design landcare policies in the future, especially in the light of recent reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy, since these are likely to effect livestock farming in the uplands. Reductions in grazing pressures may well improve biodiversity, but our findings also showed that land abandonment could lead to reductions in biodiversity."
Professor Nick Hanley will present his seminar 'Economic drivers of long-run biodiversity change' at 2pm, Wednesday 8 October in the King's College Conference centre, King's College, University of Aberdeen.
The event, which is open to everyone with an interest is biodiversity, is hosted by ACES, a joint initiative of the University of Aberdeen and the Macaulay Institute.
Those wishing to attend the event are asked to register by emailing email@example.com.</p>