Natural Environment Research Council
NERC Banner

Methods

What we do

This website has a searchable database of evidence for the effectiveness of actions to improve the environmental sustainability of food production. We have grouped actions into six subject areas (synopses): aquaculture, natural pest control, soils, farmland conservation, bee conservation and bird conservation.

We gather evidence by systematically collecting studies from key scientific journals. We summarise the results of each study that are relevant to each action.

Only studies that have quantitatively monitored the effect of an action are included in a synopsis. Studies that examine the impacts of food production (without testing an intervention to reduce them) are not included.

Simple key messages outline the main effects of each action.


We derive a list of actions by consulting an advisory board of 10-20 experts in the subject. The people who have advised us are listed here. They help us identify all the potential actions food producers might adopt to improve sustainability. Actions are included regardless of whether current evidence suggests they are effective/ineffective or whether evidence is currently available. We aim to make comprehensive lists of actions, so we welcome suggestions if you find something missing.

The aquaculture synopsis focuses on actions to improve the sustainability of Atlantic salmon and warm water prawn farming. The natural pest control synopsis examines actions to enhance ecosystem services thatcontrol crop pests and weeds. The soils synopsis focuses on actions to improve soil conditions and enhance soil biodiversity. In the bee, bird and farmland synopses we also focus on actions to benefit biodiversity.

We search relevant scientific journals from volume one through to a recent volume. We also search reports, unpublished literature and evidence provided by our advisory boards. The aquaculture, natural pest control and soil synopses include studies found by systematically trawling through NERC’s Open Research Archive (containing 16,410 references in August 2012). During this search we identified all the NERC-funded studies with a focus on the UK food system and these are catalogued in the NERC Contribution pages of this website.

Two of our synopses used systematic mapping exercises undertaken by, or in partnership with, other institutions. Systematic mapping uses a rigorous search protocol (involving an array of specified search terms) to retrieve studies from several scientific databases.

The full list of sources used for each synopsis can be found here.

The systematic map for the pest control synopsis was developed in partnership with collaborators at Fondation pour la Recherche sur la Biodiversité, Paris, France. The systematic map for the farmland conservation synopsis was developed by collaborators at Harper Adams University College, UK.