Biodiversity: Enhancing Arable Biodiversity. Six practical solutions for farmers (SAFFIE)

Summary

Arable farmland, accounting for over 20% of UK land area, is a key habitat for biodiversity. Winter cereals occupy almost half of arable land, so improvements that benefit biodiversity in arable fields can potentially have a great impact. The five-year SAFFIE research project, funded by industry and government, involved over 20 partner organisations. It showed that most arable farmers could adopt some common practices if given the right signals, although different solutions are required for different species.

Skylark plots increase chick numbers by up to 50%

Leaving small, unsown areas in winter cereals improves foraging access for adult birds resulting in improved chick survival. There is the potential to increase farmland birds if uptake of skylark plots in Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) can be improved.

Wild flowers in field margins increase beneficial insects by up to 80%

Most field margins are sown with a mixture of low cost grasses. Adding selected wild flowers to these mixtures encourages a wide range of insects including beetles, bugs, butterflies and bumblebees. Adding wild flowers is an extra one-off cost of up to £1,000/ha, so incentives are needed to encourage uptake.

Selective herbicides only in spring, benefit biodiversity within crops

Some weeds have little impact on yield, but provide valuable food and habitat for insects and birds. Using selective herbicides in spring leaves desirable species behind. Specialist advice will be needed as failure to control undesirable weeds can cause substantial yield loss without biodiversity benefits.

Opening up grass margins improves farmland biodiversity

Grass margins are typically left to grow and mown once a year. New approaches, such as scarification or graminicide use, create habitats for beetles and other insects. These approaches also encourage native wild
flowers and improve access for birds to feed and nest.

Skylark plots with open margins increase farmland birds four-fold

Winter cereals and field margins can contain much wildlife and biodiversity. Farmland birds (eg skylark, finches, yellowhammer and other buntings, yellow wagtail and whitethroat) need gaps in which to land and feed on seeds
and insects. Dense crops and lush margins are inaccessible to birds. Placing skylark plots in fields with scarified margins sown with grasses and wild flowers improves access and increases farmland bird numbers four-fold.

Environmental stewardship increases biodiversity benefits

The SAFFIE research has shown that a few simple measures can significantly improve arable farmland biodiversity. Some of the measures developed by the project are already in environmental stewardship, but all have an economic cost. Appropriate encouragement is needed to ensure greater uptake by farmers of measures in the combinations which best deliver arable diversity

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