Can Britain feed itself?

The answer is an obvious yes – at the moment! The coming oil decline will mean drastic changes to production and transport, and forward thinkers need to address this since oil may be usefully gone in 20 years.

It’s also always going to be of major interest to the Transition Movement, the Green Party and other progressive organisations.

So firstly – population. On population density,  Britain is the world’s number 51. (1) I.e., 50 countries are more densely populated than us. Now, the vast majority of those have no problem feeding themselves, at least at the moment, and neither does Britain. But how robust is Britain’s ability given oil decline, etc?

On the question of England, rather than Britain, the population density does indeed rise, as in this Telegraph article (2). Here England is shown as the most densely populated country in Europe – a level of 395 people per km2. The article does however say it beats Holland, which wiki (above) gives as 399 people per km2 – clearly a little more dense, and this WEEK’s figures! So Holland does appear to still be beating us. So room for debate! Holland is 28 on the Wiki list of density, so let’s say England may be considered 29th.

Given that the UK is actually 22nd in the world by population, at 29 by density, things are maybe what we’d expect and with a bit of room to spare. But, of course, it’s not just about sheer numbers.

Shifting the measure to “sustainability” we need to know what area will actually feed people in some sort of sustainable way.

The “Doomers” site suggests a person can be fed for a year on 1/2 acre (1/500 of a km2) (3) Which gives 500 people fed per km2.

This is comforting, although there remains the discussion on how robust Doomers figures may be; how sustainable the type of agriculture, etc. Then there’s land use which never been an issue since the second world war: should we go for food production here vs another leisure centre, etc?

Population densities such as San Marino (at 504/km2), and above, are starting to push it, with these figures.

Gibraltar at No.5 with a density of over 4500/km2 must surely import just about all its food!
So in food terms it’s completely unsustainable!! Doubtless most of their food comes from Spain, and the people can pay for it (whatever their goods or services may be!).

In all this discussion there must be space for trade, even if and when oil becomes extortionate or sails make a comeback! No one is suggesting emptying Gibraltar down to a minimum population that can feed itself, and its problems in that direction must surely be minimal next to a food rich country which it’s on good terms with.

There’s a more robust account here – Can Britain feed itself? – a Transition article (4)

Meanwhile, the Dervaes family in Pasadena seem to be a legend (5) – producing 6000lbs (2720kg) from a 1/10 acre! (1/2500 km2)

So I’d argue that all is far from lost for Britain even at the current population.

Martin Deane, Hull Greens



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