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Environmental change

We can expect to see changes in the UK countryside as some types of farming become easier, and others harder, as our environment changes.

Among the challenges, farmers will need crops that can grow and be harvested under different temperatures and rainfall. Livestock producers might rely more on stored feeds, to cope with lower grass yields in hotter summers, and with cattle spending longer in sheds during wetter winters. Both crops and livestock will become vulnerable to pests and diseases that have not posed a threat before, and existing pests and diseases could become more serious.

BBSRC funds research that underpins advances in agricultural and environmental science. We invest £11.7M (2007-08) in research relevant to helping the UK to meet the challenges of environmental change.

Research is revealing and predicting how plants, animals and microbes will respond to environmental change, and what this will mean for natural and farmed environments. It is helping farmers to choose systems that meet their particular environmental and market needs.

Bioscience is also helping to mitigate some of the causes of environmental change, by identifying options for saving energy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and developing renewable sources that do not increase carbon emissions.

Research relevant to environmental change includes the responses of biological systems, including agricultural systems, to climate and other environmental factors (see below) and their possible adaptations to it.

Environmental factors include:

  • temperature (high and low)
  • gases (e.g. ozone, CO2, methane, oxides of nitrogen)
  • water (drought and flooding)
  • wind (e.g. crop lodging)
  • sunlight
  • salinity
  • pollution of the land, water course or atmosphere

Research relating to environmental change may include the effects of these environmental factors on:

  • the incidence of diseases and pests (of livestock or crops)
  • crop or livestock production (including animal welfare)
  • land use strategies
  • biodiversity
  • soils
  • aquatic environment
  • how organisms are affected by climate, especially dates of seasonal phenomena such as migration or opening of flowers (phenology)

Some BBSRC-funded research projects in this area

Case study

Predicting future needs and options

Sirius is a simulation model that predicts wheat yield under different climates. It takes account of flowering time and responses to daylight, yield from photosynthesis, use of water and nitrogen, and response to water and nitrogen deficits.

Developed by scientists at Rothamsted Research in partnership with Crop and Food Research, New Zealand, Sirius shows, for example, how with early-maturing varieties losses from a shorter growing period may be more than offset by the benefit of harvesting before late summer drought.

Public engagement

Over 100 members of the public joined a panel of experts at Glasgow Science Centre in July 2007 to discuss what role photosynthesis-based energy solutions could play in the future UK energy mix.