RSPB Topic Sheets
Farming for WildlifeBeetle banks

Farming for Wildlife
Beetle banks

Beetle banks are grass mounds, about 2 metres wide, that run the length of large arable fields, cutting right across the middle. They can start 20 metres out from the field edge at each end so that a field can still be farmed as one unit. Beetle banks are generally appropriate for fields larger than 20 hectares. Fields of 30 hectares and above may warrant more than one beetle bank.

Benefits for wildlife

Beetle banks boost numbers of beneficial insects and spiders on arable farmland

A tussocky grass strip through the middle of a field, such as a beetle bank, provides essential over-wintering habitat for many welcome insects and spiders, which will move into the crop in the spring and feed on crop pests. These species may travel up to 250 metres from grass field margins during spring, so they do not reach the centre of large fields. Beetle banks provide an over-wintering habitat that enables such predatory insects to cover a whole field.

Beetle banks provide habitat for ground-nesting birds and small mammals

A tussocky grass strip through the middle of a field provides habitat for species that prefer to nest in open farmland away from field boundaries, such as corn buntings and skylarks, and mammals such as harvest mice. Grey partridges may also select these in preference to hedge banks to avoid predators.

Guidelines: How can I create and manage a beetle bank?

Creating a beetle bank

  • September is the best month to establish the grass sward that forms a beetle bank
  • You will need to plough furrows that point towards each other from either side during cultivation of the field to create a raised bank of about metres along the plough line. The headland at each end of the beetle bank can remain cropped.
  • The grass mix should include up to 30% of the tussock-forming species such as cocksfoot or timothy grass. The rest of the mix can consist of fescues and bents. All species should be of native origin.
  • You should broadcast the seed at a rate of 70 kilograms per hectare immediately after cultivation to get good establishment.
  • Three cuts may be necessary in the first summer (when the sward reaches 10 cm in height) to encourage the grasses to tiller and to help control invasive annual weeds.
  • Once established, you should only cut the grass strips when there is a need to get the dead tussocks to regenerate (this is likely to be no more than once every three years).

Protection from sprays

  • Beetle banks are particularly vulnerable to the effects of pesticide drift because these narrow strips of grass are sprayed on either side.
  • On light soils with a low weed burden, conservation headland management on either side of a beetle bank will enhance its value for insects and birds whenever the adjacent crop is a cereal. Conservation headlands are selectively sprayed margins (see the separate sheet entitled 'Conservation headlands'). You should avoid the application of insecticides within at least 6 metres of the beetle bank whenever   possible, as these will be particularly harmful.

Key points

  • Beetle banks can boost predatory insect numbers and thus help with pest control.
  • The field headland can remain intact so that the whole field can still be farmed as one unit.
  • Beetle banks can be funded by the Countryside Stewardship Scheme.

Further information:

Payment for some of this management may be available as part of a wider package of work under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme. You can get further information on this and other ways of managing your farm for wildlife from:

Agricultural Advisor,
The RSPB, UK Headquarters,
The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire. SG19 2DL
Tel: 01767 680551

Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group,
NAC, Stoneleigh,
Kenilworth, Warwickshire. CV8 2RX
Tel: 024 7669 6699

The Game Conservancy Trust,
Fordingbridge,
Hampshire. SP6 1EF
Tel: 01425 652381

Sponsored by:

Contact DEFRA for information and application packs for agri-environment schemes:
Conservation Management Division,
Room G15, Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London. SW1P 3JR
Tel: 020 7238 6759

 

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