Ramona Scott

Presentation to “Growing Together” – Canada Food Security Assembly, 2004

Winnipeg, Manitoba  October 14-16, 2004


Agriculture and Conservation:

Striving for the Best of Both in One World


By Ramona Scott, TLC Agricultural Liaison


What do agriculture and habitat conservation have in common?  Farmers and ranchers share more with rare and threatened species than you might think. Both are facing increasing pressures and a loss of land, and both need diverse ecosystems to survive in the long term.


This presentation focuses on the relationship between farming, biodiversity and the conservation of natural systems as a basis for sustainable agriculture which is a basis for food security. It discusses grounded examples and case studies to explore the ways in which farming and conservation can be complementary activities.  This is an interactive workshop, in which participants are encouraged to share stories, ideas and concerns, as we work together to identify solutions and strategies for future developments in agriculture and conservation.


What TLC does and how it relates to agriculture in British Columbia


TLC The Land Conservancy of BC is a registered, charitable, not for profit land trust established in the Spring, 1997. We are completely independent of government therefore rely heavily on the generosity of our subscribing members (now numbering close to 3000) and other supporters. We are modeled after, and partner with, the 107 year-old National Trust of Great Britain. Approximately 60% of the more than 600,000 acres of land owned by the National Trust is farmed by over 700 tenant farmers. There is a wealth of knowledge concerning conservation on agricultural land that we gain from the NT land management experience. [1]


TLC seeks to protect British Columbia’s natural and cultural heritage through protection of significant habitat, important lands, waters, landscape features and structures upon which and within which B.C.’s heritage is manifest.  We do this by direct acquisition of property (through purchase or donation), or the establishment of conservation covenants, long-term leases or stewardship agreements.  When we take such sites under our care, it is our intention that they will be protected on behalf of the public, in perpetuity.  It is also our intention that, wherever possible, the sites will be accessible for the public to enjoy, respect, learn from and have the opportunity to participate in protecting.


In our relatively brief history, TLC has achieved great success.  We have protected almost 100,000 acres of sensitive and threatened lands around the province, involving more than 100 projects.  We have raised about $20 million directly and have leveraged an additional $40 million to support our conservation work.


The Role of TLC’s Conservation Partners Program


The Conservation Partners Program (CPP) is TLC’s conduit to a thriving community of ecologically sustainable and economically viable farms and ranches in BC, which steward a rich diversity of ecosystems, habitats and species.  The CPP works cooperatively to fulfill the unique role of bridging the public, conservation and agricultural domains, simultaneously supporting on-farm stewardship while fostering an informed public who value the contributions that local, working farmers and ranchers make to conservation.


The CPP addresses the issues and problems associated with sustainable agriculture and habitat conservation, jointly.  Some of these problems include: loss of natural ecosystems and critical wildlife habitat; loss of farmland to development and urban sprawl; challenges to the economic viability of local, sustainable agriculture; some misperceptions about the conflict between agriculture and conservation; threats to local food security and community health.


The CPP links sustainable agriculture and farmland stewardship with wildlife and ecosystem conservation, viewing them as complementary and interdependent. Through raising awareness about these issues and promoting Conservation Partners (farmers) as examples, we dispel the misconception that the two are competing interests, and demonstrate that ecological health, sustainability and the carrying capacity of the land are linked as part of healthy food practices and healthy communities. We make this link apparent to farmers, agricultural organisations, the food retail sector (including restaurant chefs and urban delivery box programs), environmental organisations, and the general public.


At the same time, we work to maintain and enhance the viability of sustainable farming practices by:

  • providing information, resources, and recognition to farmers who protect, maintain and/or enhance the natural biodiversity and wildlife habitat on their land;
  • educating consumers in the marketplace about conservation and sustainable agriculture, and seeking their support for  farmers who are engaging in conservation and healthy growing practices
  • raising awareness and understanding of the links between these issues within the agricultural community, government, and the general public

The CPP aims to empower willing landowners with the tools necessary to improve the stewardship of their properties. In recognition of their valuable conservation work, participating farmers receive a CPP “butterfly” label.  This label is provided to markets and retail outlets, together with pamphlets, signage, and information about farmers and the Conservation Partners Program. In other words, the CPP works co-operatively to bring a face and environmental success story to the kitchen table, one farm at a time.

While the United States’ successful Food Alliance[2] label program (started in 1994) is quite similar to TLC’s Conservation Partners Program, the CPP is a provincial program and the only one of its kind in Canada. It began in 2002 in the Okanagan Region, and was expanded in 2003-2004 to the Vancouver Island/Coast and Lower Mainland Regions.  This program is new, and unique in Canada, hence quantifiable measurements of the program’s impacts within the province are still being developed.  The best measurement and indication of success to date is direct feedback and interaction with our partners and the public.  Program evaluation is primarily qualitative at this point, and more quantitative monitoring procedures are being developed as part of our long term capacity-building activities.


TLC’s Position Regarding Conservation and Agriculture


  • The primary cause of biodiversity depletion is loss and alteration of habitat


  • The leading cause of loss of habitat – human land use pressures


  • Farmers and ranchers have a crucial role to play in maintaining or enhancing

biodiversity and natural habitat.


  • On all properties in agricultural production acquired by TLC, everything possible

is done to maintain sustainable agriculture on the land, including leaseback to

farmers and ranchers, conservation covenants, stewardship agreements, and

other options which may be available.


  • Voluntary private landowner stewardship is essential to the protection of biodiversity. Farmers need support of food buyers and all levels of government if they are to provide the ecological services that are enjoyed by society.


  • TLC supports other sustainable (environmental) agricultural initiatives, either directly or indirectly


  • TLC believes that by working cooperatively with agriculturalists, biodiversity can be conserved, maintained and enhanced without harming economic productivity


The SARE program[3] defines the primary goals of sustainable agriculture as:

  • Providing a more profitable farm income
  • Promoting environmental stewardship, including:

–          Protecting and improving soil quality

–          Reducing dependence on non-renewable resources, such as fuel and synthethic fertilizers and pesticides, and

–          Minimizing adverse impacts on safety, wildlife, water quality and other environmental resources

  • Promoting stable, prosperous farm families and communities


TLC is a member of the Steering Committee of the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable (CR-FAIR) whose vision is “a sustainable and secure local food and agriculture system that provides safe, sufficient, culturally accepted, nutritious food accessible to everyone in the Capital (Victoria) Region. TLC works to promote this vision of food security for the region and the province.


My goal in this presentation is to provide you with some information about what is involved in farms that practice both agriculture and conservation. Through public education, food shoppers can choose to buy products from these farms, thereby increasing farmers’ viability and creating more demand for local, sustainable agriculture.


The Challenges


Only 5% of British Columbia is productive agricultural land. Ninety percent (90%) of British Columbia’s population resides in three southern regions: the Fraser Valley, the East Coast of Vancouver Island, and Okanagan Valley – where the most productive agricultural land in BC occurs. Only one-tenth of the total land in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) occurs in these three regions, however it is the most productive agricultural land in BC and contributes the greatest amount of dollars to the economy.


BC is the envy of many jurisdictions in North America because of the province’s foresight in the 1970’s to establish the Agricultural Land Reserve. The ALR is essentially a method of zoning land capable of agriculture. This represents only about 5% of the land in BC. Approximately 6% of the land base of BC is privately owned, of which about 44% is in the ALR.  Although the total of 4.5 million ha of ALR set aside in the 1970’s remains about the same, the quality and location have changed considerably with the most productive land in the southern portion of the province being eroded away and  taken out of the ALR, and more land being designated as Agricultural in the northern parts of the province.


Now there is huge pressure on the remaining highly productive land. Local municipalities needs are being given more consideration in whether applications should be approved for withdrawal from the ALR. Land values are very high, farm incomes are dropping, average age of farmers is near retirement, farmers’ equity is in their land so they need to sell for retirement. Farmers’ children are not wanting to farm. Even if they do inherit the farm the it is not profitable enough for them to keep the land in agricultural production.


In the Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island and South Okanagan there is intense pressure to remove land from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) for residential development, industrial land, recreation facilities, senior care facilities, and transportation infrastructures. There are a number of groups[4]  organizing to intervene in applications to remove land from the ALR. Local government is encouraged to establish urban containment boundaries, include agricultural land zoning in official community plans, and create policies and bylaws to support and encourage local food production.


Large–scale agriculture has had major environmental impact through land clearing, drainage of wetlands, alteration of waterways, water pollution from pesticides, air pollution, and soil erosion. Industrial agricultural practices continue to create serious environmental pollution and threats to human health. Nevertheless, today’s ranches and small-scale, well managed farms offer significant opportunities to protect and enhance biodiversity and natural ecosystems. Agricultural lands can offer more beneficial habitat values than urbanization. Society must find ways to ensure that farmers and ranchers can continue to be economically viable and to support them in the environmental stewardship of their lands.


Reasons to Protect Farmland


TLC’s role in the food distribution system is education about the value of protecting farmland in BC. There are approx 21,000 farms in BC, most of them small-scale, family farms. About 475 farms are certified organic. Local food security is an all encompassing motivation to keep farmers farming. On Vancouver Island, 50 years ago, farmers produced 85% of the Island’s food. Today Island producers provide only about 10% of the food consumed.  Provincially, it is estimated that farmers produce about 50% of the province’s food consumed.


These are some of the reasons to protect farmland now and into the future


  • Retain Arable Land for Food Production and Local Food Security


  • Protect, Enhance and Maintain Natural Biodiversity on Farmlands – Retain wildlife corridors and habitat


  • Build Sustainable Communities


  • Protect Agriculture-Based Economy – It provides a livelihood for over 33,000 British Columbians employed directly in the agricultural sector and almost 250,000 who are in agriculture and food related jobs. This translates into approximately $16 billion in annual economic activity in BC.


  • Provide Opportunities to Farm for Young People and Future Generations –
  • Maintain Farmscapes for ‘Ecological Services’ such as Water Retention, Soil Conservation, Air Quality, Pest Control, Green Spaces, Aesthetic Landscapes


  • Reduce Encroachment of the ‘Urban Fringe’ into Rural Areas


  • Conserve our Cultural Heritage


Importance of natural ecosystems and biodiversity to agriculture.

To understand the relationship between agriculture and conservation it is important to learn about biodiversity and ecosystems.

“Biodiversity” describes the great variety of life we see around us including:

– Diversity of species

– Diversity in the genetic variety

– Diversity of different types of ecosystems

These three different types of biodiversity are linked and interdependent.


What is an Agro-ecosystem?

An agro-ecosystem  is a dynamic association of mixed native and  introduced biodiversity, natural and man-made habitats, atmosphere, soils and water. Agro-ecosystems are altered by past and current activities to produce agricultural products and services. They are contained within larger ecosystems, including urban development, watersheds, forests, and grasslands. Nature does not believe in the lines we like to draw on maps!

Agricultural ecosystems are complex systems.  However they do differ from “natural” ecosystems.  An agro-ecosystem has been altered by past and current activities to produce agricultural products and services.

Potential Agriculture Impacts on Natural Biodiversity

It is not possible to farm without altering the natural environment. Some practices, particularly the large-scale industrial agriculture that we see today, have some severe negative impacts on natural biodiversity and ecosystems.

Some of these impacts are as follows:

Reducing genetic diversity

– habitat change and fragmentation (drainage of wetlands, land clearing)

–  intensification and monoculture

Reducing number of species:

– farm waste runoff into aquatic environments (nutrients, sediment)

–  invasion by alien weeds and pests

–  chemical fertilizer and pesticide applications

–  poor tillage practices

–  poor grazing practices

Natural Biodiversity Supports Agriculture

With our traditional focus on “nature” as something to be controlled for agricultural production, we often forget all the ways in which farming depends on natural biodiversity.

Facilitates the functioning of ecosystems

  •   soil microorganisms and invertebrates in nutrient recycling
  •   protection and enrichment of soils
  •   pollination
  •   regulation of local climates

It provides the genetic resources for most of the world’s food and fiber products

–  Insurance against risk and uncertainty

Offers a range of less tangible values and services

–  scientific, health/medicinal, cultural, aesthetic, recreational

Natural Biodiversity Impacts Agriculture

On the flip side, natural biodiversity and wildife can sometimes have a negative impact on agriculture.  Crop damage can occur from waterfowl, rodents, ungulates, and birds (especially fruit trees and berries).Also, as land is set aside and protected, it may be made unavailable for agricultural production and farming.

Agriculture Supports Biodiversity

However, agriculture can also actually support and benefit biodiversity, if managed properly – and this is the basis of sustainable agriculture. Case examples of how farmers’ practices can benefit the environment form the basis of our work with TLC’s Conservation Partners Program.

Agriculture can be based on richly diverse biological resources.  It can protect land from urban development.

The maintenance of farmland can also provide complete or portions of habitat necessary for the continued survival of habitat, such as windbreaks as bird habitat, or wetlands for amphibians.

Some examples of how wildlife can find important habitat on farmlands are:

Waterfowl in fields; Amphibians in wetlands; Fish in streams; Bats behind shutters;

Owls in barns; Beneficial Insect Pollinators in Hedgerows.



Duck Creek Farm, owned by John and Linda Wilcox on Salt Spring Island, is a good demonstration of how habitat restoration can actually benefit farm production. This farm was developed from raw land and now yields bountiful crops of vegetables, basil, garlic, apples and potatoes. The farm consists of 13 acres of the upper valley of Duck Creek, plus 7.5 acres of leased hay & pasture land near by. The principles of bio-dynamic agriculture, an ecological stewardship method, emphasizing ecological diversity and recognized worldwide, are practiced here.

John used to experience periodic flooding of his fields, which damaged crops and made the land hard to till at all.  By maintaining the creek and wetland on his farm, he not only provides habitat for birds, insects, and amphibians, he also is able to maintain a consistent and healthy water level for his fields.

Beaver Dams maintain creek levels, and to control flooding, piping is used to “fool” the beavers into allowing some water through their dams!  Also, cutthroat trout can now live year-round in the stream.

Another example of some of the important ecosystem functions of natural areas are provided by streams, riparian areas, and wetlands. These features:

– provide diverse wildlife habitats and movement corridors,

– retain soil moisture and recharge groundwater,

– slow flood waters,

– provide bank stability,

– harbour beneficial insects

About one-third of Godfrey-Brownell Vineyard, located in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, is devoted to production of grapes and other wine fruits. On eastern Vancouver Island, agri—tourism, and particularly wine tours, is gaining in popularity. Dave Godfrey hosts tours, wine-tasting and sales at his vineyard Ten acres (currently hay) is intended for mixed farming. No herbicides or pesticides are used. The remainder is second-growth forest and intensive hedgerows; this is “farmed” on a careful sustainable basis designed primarily to maintain a diverse, natural environment.

The Glenora Creek flows through the forest. Dave and Ellen Godfrey plan to both preserve and enhance it. At the moment, there are still four kinds of salmon who return, without hatchery intervention. There is also a great variety of local fauna and birds that are thriving under their stewardship.

Edgar, Philip and Doug Smith holistically manage their certified heritage dairy – Beaver Meadow Farms in Comoxon Vancouver Island, B.C. Fifteen years ago the Smiths switched from conventional farming to “natural systems” farming, and in 2000 the farm was officially certified as a “Heritage Dairy Farm”. The certification means that the farm meets animal welfare, biodiversity, and environmental enhancement standards. The standards of the Heritage Dairy Farm Association are ensured through annual inspection by an independent, licensed, professional agrologist.

Their operations include:  a grass-fed dairy herd  (one of few in Canada) – using no herbicides, pesticides, GMO’s or feed additives; eco-foresty products; cranberries; and wasabi. Fresh milk supplies the production of their Natural Pastures fine hand-made Artisan cheeses. With fewer inputs and greater variety of products, the farm is much more profitable today than 20 years ago.

Their goal is to create a diverse landscape of forest, grassland and riparian areas to maintain the native integrity of the Upper Little River Basin. The restored stream habitat supports over 400,000 coho fry – one of the most productive salmon habitats per square meter on the east coast of Vancouver Island. The Smiths cooperate with the local salmon enhancement society which has built and maintains a fish hatchery on the farm at the head of the stream. Cows are kept out of the entire10-kilometres of stream and riparian areas through the use of electric fencing. Off stream watering is provided. In turn the stream supplies groundwater and irrigation for growing grass, as well as cranberries.

One of the trade-offs to the Smiths’ style of farming is that they need to have a great deal more knowledge than before, especially concerning the natural environment. Edgar explains, “It’s a management intensive style of farming versus an energy intensive one where you can just apply excessive amounts of tractor fuel, chemical fertilizers…Natural farming is a highly skilled, highly evolved, technical profession and way of life.”

They rotate the herds based on a fairly sophisticated system of monitoring plant growth and recovery. The pastures are divided into 1 hectare lots with electric fencing. Cows are moved once and even twice a day between plots, each plot left to grow grass for about 18 days before cows feed again. Cows deposit the manure in the pasture where it contributes to the nutrition of the grass, instead of the farmer needing to move and store it at the barn.

Ven’Amour Organic Farm, a tree fruit orchard owned by Steve Venables and Kim Brind’Amour, has set aside a large area of old growth cottonwood forest on the banks of the Similkameen River.  The farm is nestled into a hillside, and also has some beautiful sections of dry sage brush grasslands.

The river valley and protected grassland above the farm provide corridors for wildlife passing between Chopaka West Grassland Park, neighbour Lee McFadyen’s 200 acres of stewarded grassland, and the adjacent Similkameen River Pines property owned by TLC

The protection of these areas has served as an added bonus to the tourism business at Ven’Amour.  In addition to producing tree fruits, the farm hosts a luxury cottage for rental, and guests enjoy the beautiful setting and natural areas around their cabin. Guests learn about Steve and Kim’s partnership with TLC, through their brochure describing their commitment to conservation.

Kildara, “Church of the Oaks” in Gaelic, is an organic farm owned by Brian and Daphne Hughes. It is a multi-generational family-operated farm, producing salad mix, field vegetables, apples, strawberries, eggs, and flowers. The Hughes intensively farm their 30-acre property, using 12 greenhouses and cultivated fields. However, their farming is done in close relationship with the natural ecosystems. They leave hedgerows, forest and pond in natural condition to provide habitat for beneficial birds and insects.

Cultivation includes crop rotations, greencovers, intercropping, mulching, chicken ‘tilling’, and a lot of diversity in types of crops. As a result, the farm is lush with many native species, including wild roses, hawthorne, snowberry, fir and maple trees, a copse of garry oak trees, many birds, dragonflies, ladybugs, and bees.

Leaving grasses and even dandelions to grow between rows also can be beneficial. Dandelion blossoms attract bees which are efficient pollinators. Diverse vegetation growing between rows and in hedgerows provides an alluring habitat,  that along with flowering fruit and vegetable plants, draws insects that prey on pests.

Later in the year, stubble from crops such as broccoli, can be left so that side shoots bloom, creating a long-term nectar source for bees into early winter.

Ways to Manage for Biodiversity on Farms

In summary, these are some ways that farmers manage for biodiversity on farms – these are recognizable methods where agriculture and conservation work together to create a healthier and sustainable farm.

  • Control invasive species
  • Improve pest management and fertilization
  • Conserve water – mulch, micro and drip irrigation, soaker hoses
  • Screen fish out of irrigation pipes
  • Practice conservation tillage and cover cropping
  • Practice good grazing management – protect streams and ponds
  • Improve and maintain functioning of riparian area
  • Retain edge habitats – hedgerows, grass borders
  • Install Wildlife plantings – buffers, windbreaks
  • Preserve wildlife trees
  • Protect nests, nesting birds and eggs in nests
  • Protect sensitive wildlife areas
  • Erect raptor roosts, bat houses

Conservation Covenants

Farmers may choose to place a conservation covenant on their farm – this is not only the year to year stewardship agreement that Conservation Partners begin with, but constitutes a long term commitment to conservation. In BC there are strict guidelines for placing a conservation covenant[5] on Agricultural Land Reserve. TLC has successfully negotiated two covenants on ALR.

The first is O’Reilly’s Organic Farm.

David grows cherries, apricots, peaches, plums and pears on 13 acres located on lower Park Rill Creek north of Oliver, BC in the S. Okanagan valley.

He knows that the creek and its fringe of trees and shrubs (riparian area) are good for his farm. He voluntarily placed a conservation convenant on his farm so that the natural environment is protected forever, an act that acknowledges the importance of maintaining arable land for our country’s future food production. His covenant stipulates that a whole farm management plan be prepared within five years.

David willingly agreed to reduce the amount of mowing on his property near the creek. This resulted in a significant and rapid increase of trees and shrubs within the waterbirch/dogwood plant community. 670 native shrubs and trees were planted. He offered to host a riparian workshop so other landowners could learn and be inspired to

follow his lead. Bat houses and nest boxes for owls, swallows and wood ducks have also been installed to create additional wildlife habitat.

Linnaea Farm is a beautiful land trust located on Cortes Island, B.C. Situated on the edge of a small lake, it comprises 315 acres of rich forests, fields, gardens and orchards.

A small group of adults and children have chosen to live, work the land, and learn together ways of putting their vision of personal and earth stewardship into practice. These resident stewards operate a small, experimental organic farm. In addition to several gardens of annual and perennial vegetables, herbs, berries and ornamentals, there are 30 acres of pasture and hay fields with cows, horses, sheep, chickens, and bees.

In keeping with the mandate of the Linnaea Farm Society resident stewards also operate an ecological garden programme, an alternative school for island children, and workshops for skills in sustainable living using the rich resources of Linnaea Farm.

The Linnaea Farm Society placed conservation covenants on Linnaea Farm, dividing the land into four different zones. Each zone provides a different type of protection to the land. Organic farming methods must be used in the Agriculture Zone. Harvest of forest products in the Forest Zone must be sustainable. The Protected Zones are free from human activity, except for limited trail use. The Residential Zone is the least restrictive, allowing resident stewards to conduct activities necessary for home and farm maintenance while protecting the lakefront.

How Can You Support Sustainable Ag in the Marketplace?

If you care about how your food is produced, learn about and become an active participant in the food system. As a customer, your food-buying dollars become your clout and where you choose to spend those dollars you vote for or against food  production methods.

  • Talk to the source and learn about how your food is grown
  • Buy at local Farmers Markets
  • Join a Community Supported Agriculture Farm
  • Pick-your-own farms and roadside stands
  • Buy organic products
  • Look for  alternative sources of meat, especially grass fed and pasture-raised livestock
  • Support Community and school gardens
  • Explore on-line options for lists of sources of local food.

Thank you.

I’d like to take the remaining time hear from you.

We are always seeking input and suggestions for how to develop the CPP and how to bring to consumers the way their choices have power to ensure a safe, healthy and secure food system. At TLC we believe farmland needs to be protected both for profitable local food production and for the multitude of ecological services that farmlands provide to society.


Questions for Discussion

Do you agree with what we have discussed regarding the relationship between biodiversity and agriculture? Why or Why not?


What do you believe needs to be done?  On the farm,  in the Marketplace?


How can we start to create the right tools and conditions for the change we want to see?







[1] See   http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/environment/html/land_use/_fspapers/fs_agri4.htm


[2] See Food Alliance http://www.foodalliance.org/index.html   Other interesting labels include the LEAF marque (UK) http://www.leafuk.org/leaf/consumers/default.asp   Be a Local Hero – Buy Locally (US) http://www.buylocalfood.com/index.html   Salmon Safe (US) http://www.salmonsafe.org/

[3] Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, part of USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Services. See www.sare.org

See also http://www.landstewardshipproject.org/programs.html#sustainable_farming_practices


[4] For examples: FarmFolk City Folk BC Farmland Watch  http://www.ffcf.bc.ca/BCFarmlandWatch.html

SmartGrowth BC ALR Watch   http://www.smartgrowth.bc.ca/index.cfm?group_ID=3498

In the Okanagan: Save Penticton’s Agriculture from Division and Extinction (SPADE)

In the Fraser Valley: ALR Protection and Enhancement (ALRPEP)

[5] In simple terms, a conservation covenant is a set of promises made between a landowner and one or more covenant holders, such as a land trust and a municipal or regional government. These promises are witnessed in a formal, legally binding agreement that is registered on the title to the land. In the covenant, the landowner can state what can and cannot be done to, or on, the land. These agreements are very flexible and can be tailored to the landowner’s vision for the land. In British Columbia, there are certain guidelines for placing covenants on Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). The TLC has successfully negotiated two whole farm covenants on ALR land. With more experience and opportunity, covenants may be a very significant means to ensuring the ALR remains intact