4 ways farmers can help wildlife

Here are four ways that farmers can support wildlife on their land – and be paid for it.

Hare in field

1 Skylark plots

Skylark plots are undrilled patches of land, ideally measuring at least 16m2, in winter-sown cereal fields. Conservationists believe that by June the density of the cereal is too great for skylarks to forage effectively, and that the undrilled plots provide an alternative space in which the birds can find food. Two plots per hectare can increase the number of skylark chicks that fledge successfully by an impressive 50 per cent.

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2 Beetle banks

A beetle bank is a hibernation refuge for overwintering ground beetles and spiders in the middle of a large field that has been ploughed to create a ridge up to 0.4m high and 2m wide and then sown with perennial grasses. The invertebrate predators, whose densities can exceed 1,000 per square metre, reduce the numbers of crop pests such as aphids.

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3 Wildflower strips

These margins on the edges of fields must be at least 6m wide and usually consist of clovers, trefoils and vetches. They are especially important for insects such as bumblebees, butterflies and moths, but they also improve the reproductive capacity of predators such as hoverflies and parasitic wasps.

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4 Winter seed for wild birds

The change from spring to autumn sowing of many crops that took place in the 1970s and 80s massively reduced the availability of seeds for farmland birds during the winter. Planting special mixes of wheat, barley, kale and millet puts those seeds back into the landscape, though this still leaves a ‘hungry gap’ for the birds in early spring.

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