CFE advice for Arable Environmental Management
8 Simple Steps for Arable Farmers
Choosing the right measures, putting them in the right place, and managing them in the right way will make all the difference to your farm environment. The general principles given here should be considered in conjunction with local priorities for soil and water protection, and wildlife conservation. This approach complements best practice in soil, crop, fertiliser and pesticide management.
A farm environment can be improved by good management that maintains, buffers or creates high quality habitats on some 4% of your arable land. The actual area you need will depend on factors such as the area of vulnerable soils and length of watercourses. If you need further advice then consult an environmental adviser.
It is important to create a balance of environmental measures that contribute to each of the relevant points below to achieve improved environmental benefits.
1. Look after established wildlife habitats
Start by assessing what you already have on the farm! Maintaining, or where necessary, restoring existing wildlife habitats, such as woodland, ponds, flower-rich grassland or field margins, is critical to the survival of much of the wildlife on your farm, and may count towards some of the following measures without the need to create new habitats. Unproductive land can be used to create new habitats that complement what you already have.
2. Maximise the value of your field boundaries.
Hedgerow management and ditch management on a 2-3 year rotation boosts flowers, fruit and refuges for wildlife. This is most suited to hedges dominated by hawthorn and blackthorn, and ditches where rotational management will not compromise drainage. Plant new hedgerow trees to maintain or restore former numbers within the landscape.
3. Create a network of grass margins
The highest priority is to buffer watercourses, ideally with buffer strips at least 5m wide. Grass margins can also boost beneficial insects and small mammals, as well as buffer hedges, ponds and other environmental features. Beetle banks can reduce soil erosion and run-off on slopes greater than 1:20 as well as boosting beneficial insects in fields greater than 20 ha.
4. Establish flower rich habitats
Flower-rich margins on at least 1% of arable land will help support beneficial insects and a wealth of wildlife that feeds on insects. Assess if this is best done by allowing arable plants in the seed bank to germinate, establishing perennial margins with a grass and wildflower mix, or using nectar flower mixtures. Improving the linkages between these features on your farm will also help wildlife move across the landscape.
5. Provide winter food for birds
Provision of seed for wildlife is best achieved by leaving over-wintered stubbles unsprayed and uncultivated until at least mid-February on at least 5% of arable land, or growing seed-rich crops such as wild bird cover on 2% of arable land.
6. Use of spring cropping or in-field measures to help ground-nesting birds
Spring crops provide better habitat for a range of plants and insects, and birds such as lapwings and skylarks. Use rotational fallows, skylark plots in winter cereals or (if breeding lapwings occur) fallow plots to support ground-nesting birds where spring cropping forms less than 25% of the arable area.
Do not create fallow plots on land liable to runoff or erosion. Evidence suggests that at least 20 skylark plots or a 1ha fallow plot per 100 ha would support groundnesting birds.
7. Use winter cover crops to protect water.
Consider if a winter cover crop (e.g. mustard) is necessary to capture residual nitrogen on cultivated land left fallow through the winter. This is not necessary if stubble is retained until at least mid-February and forms a green cover.
8. Establish in-field grass areas to reduce soil erosion and run-off
Land liable to act as channels for soil erosion or run-off (e.g. steep slopes or field corners) should be converted to in-field grass areas.