Arable Field Margins
Areas of land under cultivation or temporary grass leys of less than five years. Includes all tilled land (i.e. horticulture, cereals and roots crops) 1Action for biodiversity in the South West (1997)
Status of habitat
Extent in South East England
- Over 70% of England's land surface is farmed (Defra, 2006)
- In 2005 there were almost 3 million hectares devoted to the production of cereals in the UK (Defra statistics)
- The extent and condition in South East England is unknownOver 70% of England's land surface is farmed (Defra, 2006)
In 2005 there were almost 3 million hectares devoted to the production of cereals in the UK (Defra statistics, available at http://www.defra.gov.uk/esg)
Over 60 % of the land in the SE region is under agri-environment schemes
Significance of habitat
Ranscombe Farm's Kitchen Field is one of the only SSSI primarily for arable plant interest
Agriculture is the main land use in Britain and a considerable part of European biodiversity is associated with farmed habitats (Robinson & Sutherland 2002).
Over 150 members of British flora are characteristic of arable environment), 700 species of arthropods, and 70 species of birds have been found to be in some way dependent on arable land. Well managed arable farmland can provides nesting and feeding sites for declining farmland birds such as corn bunting and grey partridge, whilst many plants are totally dependent on arable farming. In fact, the south-east supports nationally important populations of arable flowers including Red Hemp-nettle (Galeopsis angustifolia) and Broad-leaved Cudweed (Filago pyramidata).
Trends and Threats
The decline of species associated with arable farmland has been well documented. Over the last 30 years many bird species associated with lowland farmland have declined substantially in both range and population size (Gregory et al. 2004, see Figure 1. A range of plants, previously considered weed species, such as Corn Buttercup (Ranunculus arvensis) have also undergone significant declines during the last century (Marshall et al. 2003). Indeed 13 birds and 23 vascular plants commonly associated with arable farmland are listed as priority in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan
This decline has been brought about by agricultural intensification, driven principally by the Common Agricultural Policy, which encouraged a number of changes in farming practices including an increase in the use of chemical inputs, a switch from spring to autumn cropping, the loss of non cropped habitats, and the loss of traditional rotations (Ewald & Aebischer 1999, Gillings et al. 2005).
More recently the loss of setaside is likely to have a negative impact on farmland biodiversity.
- A movement towards whole farm subsidies, or flat-rate, area-based payments (Single Farm Payment), and away from traditional production based subsidies could be beneficial to arable biodiversity.
- Agri-environment payments including Environmental Stewardship offer opportunities to provide habitats for arable biodiversity
Biodiversity Action Plans (BAPs)
The UKBAPincludes an Arable Field Margin Habitat Action Plan (HAPs) and a number of arable species Species Action Plans (SAPs). One of the key targets under the UK Arable Field Margin HAP is to Expand the area of cultivated, unsprayed field margins to 16,346 ha by 2010. For further details please see the national arable field margin habitat targets or visit http://www.ukbap.org.uk/
Public Service Agreement Targets (PSA)
Public Service Agreements (PSAs) set out the key improvements that the public can expect from Government expenditure.
In relation to arable farming this includes PSA target 3a: Reversing the long-term decline in the number of farmland birds for further information please visit the http://www.defra.org.uk/.
Delivery Mechanisms and Funding
Environmental Stewardship Scheme, composed of both the Entry Level Scheme (ELS) and Higher Level Scheme (HLS), offers payments to farmers for a wide range of management practices such as the establishment of wild bird seed mixtures and fallow areas, which provide really important habitat for arable birds, plants and insects.
The Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE)
Farmers care for the land they farm and know that a healthy environment is essential for sustainable farming. In order to retain and exceed the environmental benefits that used to be provided by set aside, all the leading farming organisations are now working together to encourage farmers and land managers to voluntarily adopt important land management practices that will benefit the environment.
Please see the CFE website for further information.
Guidance, practical advice and support
Guidance on Arable Plants (Published by Plantlife, Natural England and the Tubney Charitable Trust) please see
- Natural England
- Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust
Black Sheep Countryside Management
- The Wildlife Trusts