Biodiversity suffering from widespread agriculture

As the predominant form of land usage, agriculture is damaging the richness of Danish wildlife

Biodiversity in Denmark is suffering because of the large and intensive agriculture industry, biologists and environmental organisations say.

According to the Danish nature agency, Naturstyrelsen, the vast majority of the country's land – 64 percent – is dedicated to agriculture. The conservation society Danmarks Naturfredningsforening (DN) says that this is the highest proportion of farmland in the world. Some 21 percent of Denmark's land is forest or open nature, while ten percent is urbanised.

Peder Agger, a DN board member, argues that Danish biodiversity is hurting and many once-common species are hardly seen anymore.

“The consequence of having such a large, effective and intensive agriculture industry is that biodiversity suffers as a result,” Agger told Information newspaper. “Over half of Denmark’s land is ploughed and sprayed every year. That kills the natural vegetation. That is why agriculture takes the vast, vast majority of the blame for the poor biodiversity.”

The acting environment minister, Pia Olsen Dyhr (Socialistisk Folkeparti), recently released the government’s nationwide land planning proposal, Landsplanredegørelse 2013, for public consultation.

In a summary, the government admits that biodiversity is suffering in Denmark but that central planning of land use can turn the tide.

“Biodiversity is declining both in Denmark and globally,” the proposal states. “It is thought that around a fifth of the 32,000 species in Denmark are threatened. The cause is a reduction of habitat that can especially be linked to changes in agricultural methods and forestry.”

In 2010 the government signed the UN Convention of Biological Diversity, which commits Denmark to stop the reduction in biodiversity by 2020.

But while the government hopes to increase the amount of nature in Denmark, it has yet to recommended any reductions to the amount of agriculture land to make more space for wildlife.

”What is important is whether the remaining 36 percent is used for golf courses or for connecting forest areas,” Birgitte Sloth, an associate dean at the University of Copenhagen and a member of the government’s nature and agriculture commission, told Information. “Natural areas cannot be too small if biodiversity is to benefit.”

Lars Hvidtfeldt, the deputy chairman of the agricultural lobby group Landbrug og Fødevarer, replied that the drop in biodiversity could have other sources besides agriculture, and that reducing agricultural land would be difficult.

“Who would pay for it?" Hvidtfeldt asked Information. "We are also concerned by the problem but the suggestion to remove a certain percentage of agricultural land is without substance. If we start to remove large areas, it will affect the nation's economy.”

He added: “We farmers can only live off what we sell.”

According to Information newspaper, Denmark’s 42,000 farms create 130,000 jobs a year and export products worth 100 billion kroner.