Professor Les Firbank

Prof. Les Firbank’s research has always been influenced by his own farming background, and so has focussed strongly on interactions between farming and the environment. His earliest studies were on weed population dynamics, which led to much larger studies looking at different farming systems on biodiversity and agronomy; these systems included organic and GM crops. He was also interested in large scale impacts of land use on the environment and how to measure them, both at the national and European scale. At North Wyke, he worked on the ecosystem services delivered by livestock agriculture, and how to measure and manipulate them experimentally. He has led the work on standardising ecological variables within the European ExpeER programme.
He is researching the idea of sustainable intensification (SI). This is all about increasing both food production and environmental quality of agricultural land at a time when weather is becoming more extreme, and global demand for food, water and other ecosystem services from the land is rising. These issues involve highly collaborative, interdisciplinary teamwork. His concern is to make sure that SI really delivers benefits both in the present and in the future, and we are measuring the changes in the right ways. This can involve information on the farm performance, explored in the Defra SIP, a highly collaborative national programme of research and knowledge exchange. It also involves much more detailed ecological studies, such as those being undertaken by the White Rose Consortium for Sustainable Agriculture, a grouping of scientists from Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, York and FERA that are working at the University of Leeds Farm on new ways of increasing soil function of arable land to increase the resilience of crops to extreme weather within the Soil Security programme. He is also increasingly interested in how food gets to people in the cities, and he is involved in Feed Leeds, a regional network of groups involved in local food production and distribution, and through this, the developing Leeds Food Strategy.