Case Study: Buffer strips on intensive grassland

Author: Robert Kynaston
Farm: Great Wollaston Farm, Shropshire

Aims:

Two and six metre grass margins have been established in fields with arable cropping as part of the rotation. Margins were established for a number of reasons:

- Buffer water courses with 6m margins to meet LERAP requirements

- Buffer hedgerows and hedgerow trees to develop wide wildlife corridors through the farm

- Margins made economic sense on the least productive parts of the farm

- Keep machinery away from roots, hedge growth and fences

Management:

Margins have been established in a number of ways on the farm.

The arable cropping on the farm is in a rotation with short-term ryegrass/red clover leys that are generally cut for silage. Some of the margins were created by leaving the margin unploughed when the field went back to arable. Margins have also been established through natural regeneration and sowing a specific margin seed mix. Cocksfoot and timothy give good tussocky growth and creeping red fescue provides ground cover.

Margins are generally left to develop into thick tussocky vegetation, and only cut with a flail mower if blackthorn starts to creep into the margin from the hedgerow. Spot spraying with a selective herbicide has occasionally been necessary for thistle and dock infestations. When fields with margins are down to grass/red clover leys, the margins experience some light grazing when silage aftermath is grazed with cattle, usually towards the end of July after the grasses have gone to seed. This grazing helps to manage the dense vegetation, allowing a greater variety of plants and structures to develop. Grazing is not so heavy that the tussocky sward structure is grazed out.

Problems and solutions

When fields with margins are down to grass/red clover leys silage mowing contractors have cut the margin as well as the silage. To reduce complexity and confusion for contractors, fields are either surrounded by a 2m or a 6m margin, rather than mixing the different margin widths in the same fields. Stakes with coloured tops can be used to mark the edge of the margin to make it easier for contractors.

Achievements:

Around 2.4 ha of buffer strips have been created around Great Wollaston farm. These have helped to meet LERAP requirements and benefited a host of wildlife such as providing insect rich areas for farmland birds feeding their chicks through the spring and summer. Also, they provide cover and seeds for small mammals such as voles and shrews which in turn are food for hawks and owls. Partridges and yellowhammers use them for nesting.

The aim is to add perennial flowers (to supply insect food) to some margins in the future to create a greater range of habitats.

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