Pesticides - Best Practice Guides

Skylark Plots


The UK skylark population has declined by 52% over the last 30 years; although present on many farms at low levels the national population is still declining by at least 1% per annum. This is largely due to the move from spring to winter cereals and the intensification of grassland management. Skylarks occupy open fields to avoid predators. They nest on the ground between April and August in open vegetation of no more than about 50 cm high. Historically, they would make two to three nesting attempts each year, but currently this is down to only one or two attempts. Skylarks are most successful on farmland with a combination of stubbles for food over winter and short, sparse vegetation for nesting and feeding chicks. The planting of winter crops often means vegetation is too dense for a second or third brood to be produced. One low cost solution to this problem is to leave small (typically 4m by 4m in size), undrilled patches within wheat crops to enhance access for nesting and foraging.

Skylark Plots (SP) , also known as Undrilled Patches or Scrapes, have been shown in the SAFFIE project to increase the breeding success of skylarks by 49%. Skylarks benefit from undrilled patches because of the proliferation of food (insects) for their young, and also because they can spot this food more easily. If Skylark plots were adopted on 20-30% of the winter cereal area, the UK decline in skylarks could be reversed. Skylark plots are included as an option in DEFRAs Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) Scheme launched in 2005 (click here for 2005 Scheme Booklet). They are worth 5 points per plot equivalent to 10 points per hectare. Management details will be provided in the ELS Scheme Guidance Booklet.

How to establish patches

  • Each year select a field that is to be sown with a winter cereal, more than 5 ha in area and with an open aspect. Avoid fields bounded by tree lines or adjacent to woods unless the size is greater than 10 ha. A good guide is the presence of skylarks singing over the field in previous years.
  • Undrilled patches should be put in at a rate of 2 per hectare as evenly distributed as is manageable. The layout of the patches in the field is not critical, they can be randomly or neatly spaced.
  • Do not create the patches on tramlines, and make sure they are well away from field boundaries and telegraph poles.
  • The patches should be at least 24m from the edge of the field.
  • To create an undrilled patch, turn off/lift up the drill during sowing to leave an unsown area. This area should be no less than 3 m in width and no more than 12 m in length. The table below indicates how far the drill should be lifted up to give a patch of the correct area.
  • There is no need to worry about the tailing off effect caused by lifting the drill out, this is to be expected.

Drill Width (m)

Patch length (m)


5.3 to 8


4 to 6


3 to 4



Aim for each patch to be consistently 16-24m2 in area.


Plot management

  • After drilling, manage the plots as if they are a cropped part of the field (i.e. they can be over sprayed and receive fertiliser applications etc.)
  • If there are concerns about difficult to control weeds, such as black grass or wild oats, then these can be controlled using a knapsack sprayer.


For more information on the SAFFIE project please visit the website
Project partners: ADAS, British Potato Council, British Trust for Ornithology, Centre for Agri-Environmental Research (University of Reading), Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, CPA, CSL, Game Conservancy Trust, HGCA, LEAF, National Trust, Jonathan Tipples, RSPB, SAC, Sainsbury's, Safeway & Syngenta.
Government sponsors: DEFRA, SEERAD, English Nature

(C) Voluntary Initiative April 2005

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