Coronavirus (Covid-19) Information

Module DXX-4042:
Agriculture & the environment

Module Facts

Run by School of Natural Sciences

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 1

Organiser: Prof Dave Chadwick

Overall aims and purpose

Around 75% of the UK land area is used for agriculture and hence farming systems and practices can have profound effects of the environment and biodiversity. It is now recognised that many of the farming practices adopted in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, aimed at maximising production and profit, have had adverse effects including water and air pollution, soil degradation, loss of certain habitats and decreased biodiversity.

However, agriculture is also an important industry that provides food and employment for people and that shapes that rural landscape. Farmers must balance the need to operate a profitable business with sustainable land management practices. As concerns about climate change, an increasing population and future food security increase, so attention is being re-focused on agricultural production systems.

This module reviews agricultural systems and practices, the scientific principles underlying them and their impact on the environment.

It then considers the scope of relevant EU and UK government legislation and codes of practice aimed at minimising negative effects, including the role of agri-environment schemes and discuses their impact at the farm level. The role of the different agencies involved is also explored.

Course content

This module reviews agricultural systems and practices, the scientific principles underlying them, their impact on the environment, and potential future trends induced by climate change. Students are introduced to life cycle assessment as a method to integrate environmental impacts and production efficiency when comparing systems. It then considers the scope of relevant EU and UK government legislation and codes of practice aimed at minimising negative effects, including the role of agri-environment schemes and discusses their impact at the farm level. The role of the different agencies involved is also explored.

  • Introduction to farming systems in the UK: crop areas and livestock numbers; land capability classification, land tenure; upland and lowland farming systems; organic, conventional and integrated farm management systems. Historical trends in land use and their impact on the landscape. Goods and services provided by agricultural systems.
  • Crop management: principles and practices involved in the use of pesticides and fertilizers, their fate in the environment and their impact on biodiversity and water quality. Statutory and voluntary measures to minimise negative effects. Water Framework Directive.
  • Livestock production systems. Impact of grazing management in the hills and uplands. Application of life cycle assessment to benchmark the environmental intensity of production on livestock farms.
  • Food security
  • Plant breeding, including recent developments in technology
  • Water and agriculture: Effects of drought; irrigation; salinity, sodicity and waterlogging
  • Climate change: contribution of agriculture to climate change; impact of climate change on agriculture. Carbon footprinting.
  • EU support for agriculture: single farm payment, agri-environment schemes. Environmental impact of conventional, low input and organic farming systems.

Assessment Criteria


The student demonstrates a broadly correct understanding of how agricultural practices impact on the environment, and vice versa, the scientific and technical processes involved. Alternative practices are reviewed. Relevant legislation is identified. The assessment may contain some minor inaccuracies, misunderstandings or misconceptions. There is little evidence of supplementary reading.


The student demonstrates a competent understanding of the subject. The assessment covers relevant topics and reference is made to key scientific principles and commercial practices where appropriate. Clear links are established between faming practices, scientific principles, environmental impacts and legislation where appropriate. There is evidence of supplementary reading and information retrieval.


The student demonstrates a very thorough understanding of the subject, and an ability to critically evaluate and prioritise information where appropriate. Relevant topics are reviewed in a logical sequence and assessments contain relevant new material not covered in the course.

Learning outcomes

  1. Relate farming systems and practices to their environmental impacts and discuss how adverse effects may be mitigated.

  2. Discuss the scope and implementation of official legislation, environmental schemes, regulations and ‘good farming practice’ and their role in controlling the adverse environmental impacts of farming practices

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
ESSAY Critical essay on press articles

This exercise requires the student to critically review the science, policy/legislation and practice underlying a recent news article. Students are provided with a selection of articles that have recently appeared in the popular press, and have to review its content from an academic, scientific and policy/legislative context.

EXAM Exam with seen questions 50

This requires students to deliver an individual Powerpoint presentation around a key area covered by the module. The topics will be released at the start of week 9th November 2020. Students will need to be prepared to answer questions on their presentation by module staff and by their colleagues.


Teaching and Learning Strategy

Private study

Private and guided self-study


14*3 hour, 2 x 2 hour lectures


2 3-hour, 1 4 hour and 1 6-hour field and farm visits (including Henfaes). These visits are contingent on COVID-19 rules at the time. Alternative video footage and interviews with stakeholders will be provided if face-to-face visits are not permitted, with discussion sessions on each.


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Numeracy - Proficiency in using numbers at appropriate levels of accuracy
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Safety-Consciousness - Having an awareness of your immediate environment, and confidence in adhering to health and safety regulations
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting


Resource implications for students

Additional information will be provided through Blackboard links to official and industry websites

Talis Reading list

Courses including this module