In-field grass areas
Creating permanent in-field grasslands will reduce soil loss and prevent farm inputs entering nearby wildlife habitats.
Grassland areas will also create pockets of habitat for wildlife within fields, which can provide shelter for pollinating insects and predators of pest species. More extensive areas or strips, especially where connected to field edges, can provide habitat for small mammals, amphibians, reptiles and some bird species.
They can also be useful for protecting archaeological features.
In-field areas of grass can help to reduce the amount of sediment, nutrients and pesticides leaving fields in surface run-off and entering the wider countryside. Creating these permanent grassland areas can be most beneficial where soil erosion occurs, such as steep slopes on light soils or natural drainage pathways which channel run-off.
Reducing surface run-off will reduce the chances of watercourses becoming choked with sediment and suffering from phosphate pollution. Improved water quality will help to encourage aquatic wildlife including plants and insects.
Preventing fertilisers and pesticides from leaving fields also benefits any surrounding habitats, such as grassland and hedges. Lower nutrient inputs will prevent dominance by grasses and encourage a low-nutrient environment favoured by many wildflowers. A stronger wildflower resource, coupled with less influence of pesticides, will help to encourage insect pollinators and predators of pest species.
It is also important to note that retaining organic material within fields can be valuable in looking after the wildlife in the soil, and helps to contribute to productive arable land.
Ideally, in-field grass areas should be created by encouraging a dense grass sward through natural regeneration, but it may be necessary to sow a native grass mix. Grassland areas are best established in August or September. If it is necessary to create a seedbed, remove any compaction in the topsoil.
Including more vigorous and competitive wildflowers such as common knapweed, yarrow, teasel and wild carrot in a seed mix will make the areas more valuable to wildlife. Establishing additional features such as wildflower strips, beetle banks or bird seed mixes will enhance the value even further.
Choosing the right area is essential. In-field grass strips along the contour of the field can reduce and slow down surface run-off on long sloping fields next to a watercourse. Grass buffer strips adjacent to the watercourse will provide additional protection for the watercourse from soil erosion and run-off.
When establishing the grassland area, cut regularly in the first year to control weeds and encourage tillering. After establishing the grass area, it should be cut as infrequently as possible, and no more than once every three years. Cutting on rotation in March should minimise the risk of run-off and may provide nesting opportunities for birds and bumblebees.
To ensure the value of in-field grass areas, pesticide use should also be avoided except to weed wipe, spot treat injurious weeds or invasive non-native species, or where nettles and bracken come to dominate. To avoid soil compaction, avoid using the grass area for regular vehicle access, turning or storage.
Creating breaks such as hedgerows and woodland on long steep slopes can complement grass strips by providing more diverse habitats for small mammals, birds and insects.
Here are some useful case studies and articles about how farmers are putting Farm Wildlife into practice on their farms
Author: Martin Lines Farm: Papley Grove Farm, Cambridgeshire: 160 ha farmed in-house plus 360 ha contract farmed Aims: In 2013, my agronomist recommended that I spray for black bean aphid, but conditions were too wet and windy for a period of ten days, after which aphid numbers had dropped and ladybirds were eating them, so…Read More
Author: Catherine Jones, Buglife As the days continue to shorten, temperatures drop and the morning frosts start to appear, the value of autumnal vegetation for wildlife should not be underestimated. In addition to creating the striking frost-bitten scenery in autumn and winter, allowing tussocky grass and wildflower seed heads to remain uncut through winter, in…Read More