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All fields have boundaries, often these are the least productive parts of any field, where the cost of managing far exceeds the rewards. Field margins are, however, very important habitats for wildlife.
Many key species in the UK are in sharp decline due to agricultural practices. Field margins represent important havens for an array of threatened wildlife species. Every land owner can play an important role in protecting the environment and supporting the nation’s wildlife. Field margins can help us to face the challenges resulting from climate change and to balance environmental and agricultural concerns.
In grasslands, margins can provide a different habitat to the main field and also act as a connection to the boundary features - hedges, stone walls, ditches etc. Uncut and non-grazed grass field margins can provide cover for ground nesting birds, small mammals and pollinating insets.
Many plants that feature heavily in field margins are fantastic habitat for insects and spiders which provide benefit to agriculture, they are also a great food source for birds and bats.
Choosing a location
Where possible, keep margins in the same place for many years as this allows a good diversity of species to build up. If you are choosing a new area to set up a field margin or wildflower strip, then aim to locate it where weed levels are low. Permanent field margins should not be created where there is rare plant interest.
Preparation of the seed bed and sowing
As with seeding of any type where soil is very compacted this is problematic for seed establishment. Ensure that you have dealt with this by rotovating, harrowing or breaking up to a mid to fine tilth . The best time to sow your new margin is generally from late summer to early autumn as this will allow the seed to germinate and establish before the first frosts. If you are aiming to establish a margin with a large wildflower presence do not use fertilisers as this encourages grasses which although brilliant as a base will stifle the flowers.
As with meadows it’s advisable to cut and clear the site in September and remove cuttings after having left time for all the seeds to drop from the cuttings. If annual cutting isn’t feasible aim to cut at least every two or three years as this will decrease soil nutrient levels and increase plant diversity over time. Cutting is particularly important if no grazing is taking place.
Simple changes in field margin management can result in great benefit to wildlife on the farm at all levels- often with little or no cost.
We at James Gillies Land Management are experienced in helping create biodiverse habitats for farm and land owners, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to arrange a site visit.