Flower-rich habitats

Flower-rich habitats

Flower-rich habitats provide valuable wildlife habitat and help to improve populations of beneficial insects that can make farms more productive. If 2-3% of arable farmland can be managed to support flowering plants, this will help to boost populations of pollinators, crop pest predators and the diverse wildlife that are dependent upon them.

Farms can be great environments for native flowering plants. Indeed, many depend on farming practices for survival, including rare arable specialists and the wildflower-rich grasslands which were once common-place across the landscape.

Aim to work with native wildflowers preferably from the local seed bank. Where this is not possible agricultural varieties and mixes can still have a real positive impact on farm wildlife. The diversity of flowering plants is key to supporting diversity of pollinating insects. Many insects require sources of pollen and nectar from March to October and it is often during the early and latter periods that insects can struggle to find food.

Small areas of habitat rich in native wildflowers

Naturally regenerated ‘weedy’ areas around the farm can support some of the most pollinator-friendly flowering plants. Spring-flowering white dead-nettle, ground-ivy, cow parsley, violets and dandelions can be vital for newly emerged queen bumblebees, solitary bees and hoverflies. Areas of tall weeds such as cow parsley, hogweed, teasels, thistle, ragwort and willow herb are often some of the best habitats for pollinators around the farm.

arable

Arable plants, such as cornflower, corncockle and corn marigold are some of the most endangered plants in the UK. Management to protect and promote these species is the priority on arable farmland in localities where they are present and where there are suitable soils.

Which types of flower-rich habitat to provide?

On free-draining chalk or sandy soils, or less permeable clay soils where there are few competitive weeds, annual cultivated margins may be beneficial for arable plants. Managing parts of cereal fields as unsprayed conservation headlands, with fewer farm inputs, can also provide opportunities for arable plants, particularly where there are light soils with few problems from more competitive weeds.

Sown legume/wildflower areas to benefit pollinators

Medium to heavy soils with more competitive weeds are best managed by using a pollen and nectar flower mixture in plots or strips in arable fields. These sown pollinator areas need to be re-established every three to four years, and can work well in a rotation with wild bird seed mixes.

Where there are heavy burdens of grass weeds and competitive broadleaved weeds such as cleavers, creating permanent wildflower margins and corners with a perennial grass and wildflower seed mix can create a valuable pollinator resource. Flower rich habitat should maintain a high proportion of flowers compared to grass to maintain their value to pollinators. Regular removal of the vegetation is critical to maintaining a high cover and diversity of wildflowers.

Choose a habitat for expert advice on how to achieve the most from it.

livestock

Which types of flower-rich habitat to provide?

Restore flower-rich grasslands

Wildflower-rich grasslands support a wide range of native plants and provide valuable food (seeds, foliage, pollen and nectar) for many species of birds, invertebrates and mammals, as well as nesting and shelter. A large proportion of these grasslands have unfortunately been lost or degraded across all areas of the UK so restoring wildflower-rich grasslands is a priority.

Create flower-rich grasslands

Maintaining and restoring any remaining wildflower-rich grasslands is the priority, however as so much wildflower-rich grassland has been lost from our countryside there is also a need to create new ones. Wildflower-rich grasslands can be created from arable land or agricultural grasslands, but only when soil nutrient levels are low enough to allow wildflowers to establish successfully.

Rotational legume and herb-rich swards

Sowing a diversity of legumes like clover, and herbs such as ribwort plantain alongside grasses in short-term leys for cutting or grazing can provide opportunities for wildlife. Legume and herb-rich swards will have much more benefit to wildlife if plants have the chance to flower, even if only for short periods. This could be through an extended rest period between grazing or leaving small areas uncut in mown fields.

Choose a habitat for expert advice on how to achieve the most from it.