Environmental Stewardship Scheme Guidance Notes (PB10494)

Environmental Stewardship Guidance 010:

Rare Plants on Arable Land

This guidance has been developed specifically to support Environmental Stewardship agreements. It does not replace your Agreement and you must continue to follow the prescriptions and specifications. The outcomes shown may not be appropriate or suitable for all sites. Please consult scheme handbooks or your RDS adviser for further information.

Some of the rarest plants in England are found on arable and mixed farms. Many arable plants and their communities are under threat of extinction due to intensive winter cropping and the use of fertilisers and residual herbicides. Changing the timing of cultivations and cropping and avoiding broad spectrum herbicides can increase the chances of rare plants surviving in our arable fields.


  • Open margins or in-field areas, with limited competition from aggressive weeds.
  • Leave cereal stubbles uncultivated over winter, and cultivate them in the spring.
  • Unsprayed cropped headlands.

Watch out for...

Rare arable plants can be very difficult to spot, and their seeds can lie dormant for many years. To find them -

  • Check past records for sites of rare and uncommon plants.
  • Check fields when they are in set-aside or in the first year of establishing grass margins, before they are topped. If you find rare arable plants on your grass margins consult your RDS adviser.
  • They are most likely to be found on the edges of fields and where vegetation is sparse.


  • Uncommon arable plants such as Corn Marigold, Corn Chamomile, fluellens and fumitories are indicators that one or more of the rare plants may also be present.

On areas known to support arable plant communities avoid...

  • Planting grass margins.
  • Growing competitive crops.
  • Allowing spray drift from adjacent land.
  • Cultivating the land less than four weeksafter harvest.
  • Applying high levels of fertilisers and manures.




  • To survive and thrive, arable plants need conditions that allow them to flower, fruit and return their seed to the soil.
  • Different species germinate, flower and set seed at different times of year. Field guides can provide information about the specific requirements of the species on your farm.
  • It is not always necessary to manage every year for species that have seeds that can lie dormant. However, in years when you are not managing for them, avoid using broad-spectrum, residual and total herbicides.
  • Aggressive weeds make it difficult to manage for arable plants. In particular, donít consider it on sites infested with herbicide-resistant Blackgrass.

Rural Development Service. RDS is part of the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs
Environmental Stewardship: Farm Environment Plan Guidance 010
First Edition, Published March 2005

PB 10494A. Produced by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Illustrations by Jackie Hunt and Dan Powell.
© Crown copyright 2005. Reproduced for ADLib under licence.

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