Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in Agricultural Landscapes: How can business promote collaborative approaches at a landscape scale?
On Wednesday 14th November at Painters’ Hall in the City of London, the British American Tobacco Biodiversity Partnership held a panel discussion event at which the Biodiversity Risk & Opportunity Assessment (BROA) tool was shared. The audience of over 60 invited guests included stakeholders from business, NGOs and academia. The BROA tool is now freely available for use by businesses interested in taking action to support the sustainability of agricultural landscapes and communities.
The discussion, titled: ‘Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in Agricultural Landscapes: How can business promote collaborative approaches at a landscape scale?’ was chaired by sustainability advisor and leading environmentalist Tony Juniper. The panellists included (from left to right): Professor Kathy Willis, Director, Biodiversity Institute, University of Oxford; Matthew Jones, Senior Programme Officer, Business, Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services, UNEP-WCMC; Dr. Rosie Trevelyan, Director, Tropical Biology Association; Dr. Alan Knight, Corporate Sustainability Expert; and Jim Kirke, Leaf Sustainability Manager, British American Tobacco.
The theme of the event reflects the context that drove the creation of BROA, and each panellist talked about the importance of biodiversity and ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes from a different perspective. In his introduction, Tony Juniper emphasised the urgency of addressing losses of biodiversity and ecosystem services in agricultural areas.
Summary of topics covered by the panellists
Kathy Willis explained that to remotely determine ecological risk across a landscape three key pieces of information are required: an understanding of the main ecological properties of the landscape (e.g. biodiversity, threatened species); a knowledge of the main features for supporting ecosystem functions (e.g. migration routes, wetlands, habitat integrity, resilience); and the spatial configuration of these properties and features across the landscape. Much of this information is already available in global databases; less easily available are the tools for disseminating this information to end-users in a simple format.
Matthew Jones followed on from Kathy by explaining that decisions are only as good as the information on which they’re based; when businesses select data for landscape-scale or global analysis they need to be careful about data consistency, geographic variation and coverage. An absence of data doesn’t mean an absence of biodiversity. Tools have progressed, but it is important to understand what a tool is doing, and how, to have confidence in interpreting the answers it provides. The BROA fills a gap, as a transparent process which requires an organisation to collect data both from trusted institutions (e.g. see www.ibatforbusiness.org ) and from the field.
Rosie Trevelyan went on to discuss how partnerships between conservation NGOs and businesses can help meet the challenge of continuing to benefit from ecosystem services such as agriculture without incurring a cost to biodiversity and other ecosystem services.
Alan Knight provided insightful examples of why a business should look beyond its immediate footprint to a broader landscape level of impacts and dependencies. Businesses are increasingly trying to integrate sustainability in their operations, and talking increasingly about ‘business models’ rather than ‘business case’.
Lastly, Jim Kirke explained why a company like BAT needs to understand and mitigate risks to biodiversity in order to support the long term sustainability of the agricultural communities on which it depends. BROA has been highly effective at bringing biodiversity into the mainstream of operations management in BAT’s supply chain, and creating awareness of biodiversity and related issues amongst both internal and external stakeholders. Broad adoption of an approach like BROA by different organisations in a landscape would support the identification of common dependencies, risks and opportunities and help catalyse collaboration to address these common issues.
The panel discussion led into a dynamic question and answer session with some wide-ranging and perceptive questions being put forward by the audience. In his concluding remarks, Tony Juniper pointed out that we have long been aware of the need to ‘protect nature from agriculture’; now we understand that we also have to ‘protect agriculture from nature’ by conserving the ecosystem services on which agriculture depends.
The discussion was preceded by a networking reception during which BROA was distributed and demonstrated, and information about the outcomes it has achieved around the world was displayed and discussed. The event was a landmark for the Biodiversity Partnership, and feedback from participants has been enthusiastic. Plans are now underway to follow up the high level of interest shown in the topic and the BROA tool with further activities in the New Year, so watch this space!