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Resource Management

  • Earth’s Natural Resources
  • Importance of Food, Water and Energy
  • Supply and Demand of Resources
  • Provision of Food, Water and Energy in the UK

How do we use our planet as a natural resource?


You have explored several places that have used their resources for economic growth. This unit will explore why natural resources are important and the provision of food, water and energy around the world and in the UK.


Natural resources are materials found in nature that have value or a purpose to humans. Natural resources include clean drinking water, fuel for energy, wood and rocks for building, fertile soil for crop growth and grazing animals, fish and fruit for food and minerals. Humans depend on natural resources to survive and enjoy a good quality of life. Some countries have resource security; a plentiful supply of resources to supply their population, whilst others have resource insecurity; a lack of resources to supply their population. Adequate supplies of natural resources are crucial for a country's development. 


Humans can use natural resources to produce something else. For instance, humans can use rocks to make roads by crushing it into small pieces, wood to make timber and then paper or furniture, or sand to make glass. 


Some natural resources are renewable meaning that they can be replaced over time, and will not run out. The time taken for a resource to be replaced determines whether or not it is renewable or non-renewable, meaning it will run out. The Earth's spheres (see the diagram below) work together to replenish renewable resources, usually in less time than the average life expectancy. Non-renewable resources take millions of years to form. It is important that humans consume natural resources in a sustainable way.

How do we use rocks?


We have looked at rocks before, when we were exploring coastal landscapes. There are many different types of rock but all rocks can be categorised into three groups; sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic. The rocks in each group forms in different ways. 

  • Sedimentary rock forms when rocks are eroded and the minerals are transported (perhaps by a river) to another place and deposited. Over time, the layers of deposited sediment build up and the weight compresses the minerals together to become stuck and form a new rock. Sandstone and limestone are examples of sedimentary rock. 
  • Igneous rock forms when rock is heated, melts, cools and solidifies again. These types of rocks tend be found near volcanoes. This is because magma is melted rock, when it erupts through the earth's surface it cools and hardens as a result of much lower temperatures. Granite and basalt are examples of igneous rocks.
  • Metamorphic rock forms when rock changes underground without melting. Heat and pressure of rocks above can change rock without melting it. Slate is an example of a metamorphic rock.

About 65% of earth's crust is igneous rock whilst only around 8% is sedimentary rock. Rock changes all of the time experiencing a cycle.

Humans have used rocks for thousands of years:

  • People sought shelter in rocks and caves.
  • Mountains are made of rock and they are used for mining, quarrying and hiking. 
  • Roofs are made of slate, a rock.
  • Buildings are made of blocks of rock.
  • Roads are built from crushed rock.
  • Rock is hidden under the soil.
  • Rock is used to build walls and bridges.
  • Rocks are used to make kitchen surfaces and tiles (granite and limestone). 
  • Diamonds and gold used for jewellery are obtained from rocks.

Rocks also provide fuel to produce energy. Coal is a sedimentary rock formed millions of years ago from the remains of dead trees and plants. These remains sink into the soil in swamps. A lack of oxygen means that these remains do not decay fully, and instead form a brown, spongy peat. Layers of sediment deposited on top of the peat over time builds up and applies pressure to the peat causing it to dry out and form brown, crumbly lignite. With further layers of sediment deposited, pressure and heat continue on the lignite and turns the lignite into hard, black coal. We have extracted coal for hundreds of years and burnt it to produce energy. 

Why are the soils the root of life?


Soil is a thin layer on the Earth's surface between the lithosphere and the biosphere. It is normally around 1 to 3 metres deep and it takes between 100 and 1000 years for a single centimetre of soil to form. 


Soil is made up of minerals, water and organic matter from weathered rock below and decaying vegetation above. If you dug down into the soil, you would see different colours that show distinct different layers, these layers are called soil horizons and they make up a soil profile.


It contains many living organisms like fungi, bacteria, insects and worms. They all have an important role to play in forming soil, a worm for example consumes decaying leaves and clay; their waste puts nutrients into the soil and the tunnels they make allow air and water to circulate through the soil. 


The world's soil is very fragile and disappearing at an alarming rate given the length of time it takes to form. 33% of the world's soil is degraded (no longer good for crop growth). Fertile topsoil is washed away by water, blown away by wind and moved by gravity as a landslide - this is known as soil erosion. Soil erosion will seriously affect future world agricultural production. It happens naturally due to the elements but is also caused by human activity like deforestation and agriculture.


Without good soil, crops cannot grow and famine can be a severe consequence. Where soil is eroded easily, it is deposited as silt at the bottom of rivers (on the river bed). This causes rivers to silt up quickly raising the water level and causing flooding. 

How does the biosphere provide natural resources?


The biosphere is made up of living matter on Earth, including plants and animals. A biome is a large-scale ecosystem made up of abiotic and biotic components. 


The tropical rainforest contains around 50% of the world's animals and up to 75% of the world's plants. It is made up of four distinct layers; the forest floor, understory, canopy and emergents. Plants and animals have had to adapt to too much water, the poor soils, and dark conditions on the forest floor. The ecosystem is interdependent, which means the spheres work together to maintain the ecosystem.

  • The roots of the trees bine the soil together to prevent it from blowing away.
  • The dense trees provide the soil with shelter to precent it from washing away.
  • The drip tips on the leaves allow water to run off and reach the soil, providing it with nutrients.

Tropical rainforests provide many valuable natural resources such as food and wood. 

  • Food - the rainforest is home to the banana, avocado, cashew nuts, Brazil nuts, berries and spices like vanilla, and sugar, coffee, tea and cocoa.
  • Scientists isolate the chemicals in plants to produce medicines. 25% of the world's cancer fighting drugs are produced using plants from the tropical rainforests.
  • Wood is a highly valuable resource and the tropical rainforest contains teak, mahogany and rosewood. This wood is used to manufacture furniture, doors, flooring and panelling. We also use wood to produce paper by removing the bark and shredding the wood into small wood chips that are mixed with water to make a pulp.The pulp is then bleached and rolled out into paper.
  • Oil from the tropical rainforest is used in cosmetic products like soaps, shampoo, perfumes and cleaning products like disinfectants and detergents. 

Why are trees important? 


Wood is an important natural resource and it has been for many years. It is used to construct homes and manufacture furniture, doors, flooring, panelling and paper. 


Coniferous trees such as pine, fir and spruce are softwood trees. They grow in places with cool climates like northern Europe, Canada and northern Russia. They grow quickly, taking on average 25 to 30 years to grow to full size. Softwood is ideal for building and making paper. Millions of softwood trees and planted and felled each year. There is a plentiful supply of coniferous trees due to their fast growth. 


Deciduous trees such as teak, oak and mahogany are hardwood trees. They grow in places with a temperate and tropical climate like the UK or Brazil. These trees grow slowly and take on average 80 to 120 years to grow to full size. Timber from these trees is highly valuable and is used to make furniture or ornaments. A single teak tree can be worth up to £10 000.


The tropical rainforest has a supply of hardwood trees, especially teak and mahogany. Loggers clear large areas of rainforest to find them. This destroys the natural environment causing habitat loss, soil erosion and it releases the carbon dioxide stored in these trees back into the atmosphere. Parts of the rainforest are being protected and conserved as national parks or sanctuaries, preventing deforestation. However, local people rely on rainforests for work and the timber that is exported generates an income for the government to pay for education, healthcare and infrastructure. 

AQA: Why is food, water and energy important?


The World Bank recognises food, water and energy as fundamental natural resources because they are crucial for human survival and a country's development. Access to food, water and energy effects the economic and social well-being of people and countries. Humans are dependent on Earth's ecosystems and the natural resources they provide. Without these resources countries would find it difficult to develop and will be trapped by a cycle of poverty. An affordable and reliable supply of food and water is essential to have a good quality of life. Energy is important as it allows the process of industrialisation to happen, providing opportunities to break the poverty cycle. 


  • Food is necessary to survive. The calories in foods provide fuel for our bodies. The amount of calories you need depend on your age, gender and type of job you do, but humans need to consume around 2000 calories per day to stay healthy. Globally, there are around 1 billion people who do not have enough to eat, whilst there are 1.9 billion people overweight. As a country develops, the amount and type of food consumed per person increases. When people struggle to access safe and nutritious food, they can become malnourished or undernourished, meaning they're not getting enough food of any kind. Malnourishment can be damaging to the development of a child. It can cause iron deficiency and increases their chances of becoming ill. Around 1/3 of all under 5s die from diseases linked to malnourishment.
  • The average person in the UK consumes around 150 litres of water at home, only 4% of this is used for drinking. Water is essential both socially for people to cook, clean, wash and drink but it is also crucial for an economy to develop. Agriculture needs water for crops and livestock. Industry and energy production require water for manufacturing and cooling and water is needed to dispose of waste. Without proper sanitation, water sources become polluted by raw sewage. This can cause water-borne diseases such as cholera or typhoid. During the Victorian era, these diseases were rife in the UK, they are uncommon now. The World Health Organisation estimate their to be up to 4.1 million cases of cholera each year, the majority of cases are in low income countries. 
  • Countries need energy for industry and transport, as well as domestic purposes in homes. The amount of energy a country consumes depends on numerous factors including the availability of fossil fuels and wealth. Traditionally, energy was produced by burning natural resources such as wood and coal. Today, the main source of global energy is oil. Natural resources such as coal, oil and gas is burned to produce electricity. This creates jobs and wealth. The Middle East has a large surplus of oil and gas. 

AQA: Why are there inequalities in the supply and consumption of resources? 


The global distribution of food, water and energy is uneven. High income countries have an abundance of food, water and energy contributing to a high standard of living. Low income countries, especially those in sub-Saharan Africa lack these three essential resources preventing them from developing and improving the quality of life for their people. High income countries tend not to have large supplies of their own resources. However, they are able to import them or find technological ways to produce more. As the wealth of low income countries increases the demand for resources also increases. This increased demand, alongside population pressures leads to resource insecurity.


The average daily calorie intake for a country like the UK is 3200 per person, whereas the daily average calorie intake for a country like Somalia is 1500 per person. The WHO suggest we need between 2000 and 2400 calories per day to stay healthy. Globally, there are around 1 billion people who do not have enough to eat, whilst there are 1.9 billion people overweight. People need to be well fed so they can stay active at work and contribute to economic growth. There are several factors affecting a country's supply of food such as climate, climate change, pests (locusts) and diseases, a lack of technology, conflict and poverty. The map below shows the percentage of a country's population that is undernourished, meaning they do not get access to nutritious food. Are you really starving?

You already know how important water is for economic and social well-being. Population increase has meant that domestic water consumption has increased by 600% over the last 50 years (World Resource Institute). The average person in the UK consumes around 150 litres of water at home, only 4% of this is used for drinking. According the WRI, more than 1 billion people live in water scarce regions. The United Nations estimate that people living in sub-Saharan Africa spend around 40 billion hours a year collecting water. A country's supply of water is affected by a its geology, climate, pollution, limited infrastructure, over-abstraction (pumping water out faster than it is replaced) and poverty. The map below shows countries with water scarcity and those countries that will have to import over 10% of water by 2025.

This map is from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The amount of energy consumed by countries varies due to physical conditions like the availability of fossil fuels and geothermal energy, the cost of extraction and production, technology, political factors and climate. The UK has the capacity to produce energy from wind, water, coal and natural gas. Although fracking for natural gas is now banned in the UK. Typically, lower income countries and newly emerging economies produce a lot of energy to sell and export to high income countries. 

What is farming and how important is it?


The global population is estimated to be around 9.8 billion by 2050. Consequently, the world needs to produce more food. Farming is the production of crops and rearing of animals (livestock) for consumption or trade. 


Farming is a primary industry, meaning the products come from working the land. About 1/3 of the Earth's surface is ideal for farming but only 11% of this land is currently used. 


There are different types of farming: arable, pastoral, intensive, extensive, subsistence and commercial.

The success of food production from farming is determined by physical and human factors. 


  • Climate - the temperature and amount of rainfall a region gets determines what crops can be grown. 
  • Soil - the fertility and acidity of soils determine what crops can be grown as different crops have different nutritional requirements. 
  • Relief - low-lying land is good for crop growth as the soil is usually thicker and less acidic and it is easier for machinery to operate. Highlands impede crop growth because the soil is thinner, there is less of it and it is more acidic. These areas are usually used to rear livestock. 
  • Size - smaller areas of land can be used for intensive farming, whilst larger areas of land can be used for extensive farming. 


  • Money - the amount of money available to invest in machinery and labour can determine the type of farming that is carried out. 
  • Location - some products have to be processed and sold quickly, making the location of the farm important.
  • Political factors - government initiatives such as grants and subsidies can encourage farmers to produce certain products. For every £1 invested in farming, it returns £7.40 to the economy. 
  • Market influence - the demand for certain products can determine the crops that farmers produce. 

Around 57% of the land in the UK is used for farming, but only 5% of this is used to grow crops. The UK produces 7.8 million tonnes of wheat and 5.5 million potatoes each year. Cereal crops contribute £2.9 billion to the UK economy. However, the UK imports 40% of the food cosumed here. 

AQA: What are the opportunities and challenges created by the provision of food in the UK? 


The UK has a population of around 67 million people. The average daily calorie intake from eating food in a country like the UK is around 3200 per person. Historically, before supermarkets, the majority of food eaten in the UK was seasonal and sourced in the UK. For example, lettuce and strawberries in the summer and cabbage and parsnips in the winter. Nowadays, the UK imports 40% of the food consumed here. 

The provision of food in the UK contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. The distance food travels from the producer to the consumer is measured in food miles. Food miles have increased as people demand high-value foods and seasonal foods all-year round. Food imports travel 18.8 billion miles each year, contributing to larger carbon footprints. A carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by a person or an industry. Agriculture produces carbon dioxide whilst growing, packing and distributing food. Around 9% of the UKs greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture.

Why not see how far your food travels by using


As the UK becomes more concerned with the amount of food it imports, there is a growing trend towards agribusiness. Agribusiness is highly intensive, large-scale commercial farming. It allows the UK to produce around 54% of its food with a small workforce. A large tractor can do in a day, what 100 people used to do in a week. Today, less than 2% of the UK's population work in farming. The smaller the labour force, the more profit the farmer can make and the intensity of food production means it can be produced quicker and sold for cheaper than it was 30 years ago. As agribusiness is done in the UK, it reduces the need to import food, meaning less food miles. 


Agribusiness has changed the farming landscape by making them larger in size, taking over small farms and using more chemicals in fertilisers and pesticides. Animals are also given special feed to encourage growth. Agribusiness also contributes to the carbon footprint produced by agriculture and to soil degradation and erosion as it is over worked and hedgerows are removed to make bigger fields. 

AQA: What are the opportunities and challenges created by the provision of water in the UK? 


Only 2.7% of the world's water is fresh. Of that 2.7%, around 77% of it is inaccessible as it is stored in ice sheets and glaciers. The average person in the UK consumes around 150 litres of water at home, only 4% of this is used for drinking. 


The pie chart shows how the UK uses water. The UK's demand for water has changed because:

  • The UK's economic growth has provided people with higher disposable incomes to spend on washing machines and dishwashers. Some houses have two bathrooms. Access to instant hot water means that people take baths and showers more frequently. 
  • The population of the UK is rising and is expected to increase by 9.7 million by 2039. This means more houses are constructed, resulting in higher domestic water consumption.
  • Demand for early seasonal foods results in farmers adding more water to crops than usual.
  • Despite the UK moving to a post-industrial economy, water is used in industry and energy production.

The amount of water used by households in the UK has increased by 70% since 1975. Pollution and water quality is a constant challenge in the UK, putting pressure on water availability.


Water is polluted from several sources including:

  • Nitrates from fertilisers and pesticides used in agriculture are washed into rivers and groundwater stores.
  • Oil from vehicles that has collected on roads and motorways is washed into water sources through surface run-off when it rains. 
  • Chemicals and oil from factories can pollute local water sources and groundwater stores. 
  • During storm events, untreated sewage is washed into rivers.

The UK has strict laws such as the Water Industry Act 1991 that makes local authorities responsible for managing the quality of water in the UK. Companies that are found to pollute water sources can be fined. The Environment Agency is a government agency that is also responsible for managing the quality of water in the UK. It monitors the quality of river water, filters water to remove sediment, purifies water by adding chlorine and recreational use of water sources and regulates the uses of water. 

The main sources of water in the UK are rivers, reservoirs and ground water aquifers. An aquifer is a body of permeable rock that stores water. The UK receives enough rainfall to supply the demand for water, but the distribution of rainfall is uneven. The north and the west of the UK experience water surplus as they receive more rainfall than the south and the east. The south and east are more densely populated so demand more water, but have less of it causing a water deficit. This means that water needs to be transferred from the north and west to the south and east. The problem with this is the expense incurred by building dams and aqueducts. Aqueducts are pipes, canals, tunnels and other structures built to transport water. Birmingham is supplied with water from Wales. The cost to build the Birmingham Resilience Project is estimated to be around £300 million. The construction of dams often means areas of forest have to be cleared and it can disrupt wildlife. 

What are the opportunities and challenges created by fossil fuels?


Fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas are non-renewable sources of energy that have formed over millions of years. They are burned to generate electricity which is used to power homes, schools, hospitals, other services and industry. A country's access to energy can contribute to its development and the standard of living for the people. 


We have already explored how coal is formed. 

Coal is extracted by sending shafts down to the coal layer. The shafts transport miners up and down the mines. The miners extract the coal using pickaxes and drills. The coal would be loaded into skips and then lifted to the surface through a shaft. 

Oil and gas is formed when small plants and animals die and fall to the sea bed where they decompose. As sediment is deposited it builds up over time and the pressure and heat converts the remains into oil and gas. To extract the oil and gas, a hole is drilled into the sea bed and extracted to the surface. The Arabian plate holds 48% of the world's oil reserves and 43% of the world's gas reserves making it an important economic region in the production of oil and gas. 

The UK has a large supply of shale gas (gas contained in shale rock). Up until November 2019, the UK government supported fracking for gas in the UK. However, an increase in minor earthquakes and pressure from activist groups trying to save their green belt meant that they halted their support for the industry. It involved drilling into rock, adding water, sand and chemicals to crack the rocks and collected the gas that flows out of the rocks and up the pipe. 

The disadvantages of extracting fossil fuels to produce energy are listed below.

AQA: What are the opportunities and challenges created by the provision of energy in the UK?


In the past, the UK relied on its extensive coal reserves for energy, especially during the industrial revolution. The UK developed oil production in the North Sea in the 1950s and this marked the beginning of the 'oil age' for us. In 1970, 91% of the UK's energy came from coal and oil. The discovery of gas under the North Sea during the 1980s meant that by 1980 22% of the UK's energy came from gas. Since then a number of factors have meant that the UK's energy mix has changed. Energy mix means the different energy sources (renewable and non-renewable) that their proportions that make up a country's energy. 


The UK's energy mix changed because:

  • 75% of the UK's known oil and natural gas reserves have been exhausted. 
  • Oil is due to run out in the second half of the 21st century.
  • Between 1990 and 2007 the use of coal declined because of concerns about greenhouse gas emissions and unsafe ageing coal-fired power stations.
  • Concerns over climate change and the impact of burning fossil fuels have increased the role of renewable energy as part of the UK's energy mix.

Fossils fuels still dominate the energy mix of the UK because renewable energy is expensive, still being developed and is less reliable in powering industry. 


The UK's domestic supplies of coal, oil and gas have been decreasing for many years.

  • The coal that is left in the UK would be unsafe and expensive to mine so the UK now imports around 3/4 of its coal, because it's cheaper. 
  • The gas under the southern part of the North Sea has been largely used up and gas supplies have been imported since 2004. 
  • More than half of the oil under the central and northern parts of the North Sea has been used up.
  • EU regulations with regards to carbon dioxide emissions called for the closure of coal mines and coal-fired power stations.
  • Fracking for shale gas in the UK was halted in November 2019 because of an increase in minor earthquakes and pressure from activists.