Sown pollinator areas

Field margins provide an excellent opportunity to create flower-rich habitats to benefit flower-visiting insects, particularly on arable land.

The margins will work best in combination with sensitive hedgerow management to provide early sources of pollen and nectar from flowering hawthorn and blackthorn.


Establishing a mix of legumes and native wildflowers in plots or strips in or around arable fields can provide pollinating insects with good sources of pollen and nectar from March through to October.

These sown pollinator areas will work best in combination with other wildflower-rich areas and sensitively managed hedgerows to provide year long sources of pollen and nectar.



Sown pollinator areas provide flowering plants throughout spring and summer to supply food (pollen and nectar) for insects such as butterflies, hoverflies and bumblebees.

Pollinating insects, such as bumblebees, solitary bees and hoverflies are vital for both crops and wildflowers. Many insect pollinators have declined as suitable wildflowers have become more scarce in the countryside. Pollinators benefit from sowing flower-rich mixtures which can support them through periods when there are fewer wildflowers available.

Sown pollinator areas can also help to support populations of pest predators, such as hoverflies, whose larvae feed on aphids and can help to control these pests on nearby crops. The general increase in insects attracted to these mixtures also provides food for birds and valuable foraging habitat for small mammals.

Marbled White on knapweed R Winspear


Sown pollinator areas should not be created on land where there are other important wildlife habitats such as existing wildflower-rich grassland, or where annual plants (see annual cultivated plants advice) or other useful pollinator plants such as clovers and vetches, hogweeds, wild carrot, knapweeds, hawkbits and sowthistles are already present.

Aim to create a network of habitats for insects around the farm by establishing pollinator areas in wide strips (ideally 6 metre wide) or plots of 0.25 -0.5 ha in size (which will help protect insects from spraying in adjacent fields). Choose locations that receive a lot of sunlight and have well drained soils. Avoid establishing pollinator margins near to existing flower-rich grassland areas. In these areas it is best to create wildflower-rich margins or grasslands using locally harvested wildflower seed.

The key to a successful nectar and flower margin is in the preparation.

Create a clean, fine and firm seedbed for establishing the plot. A contact non-residual herbicide may need be used prior to establishment. Broadcast and roll your selected seed mix either spring (March to May) or autumn (August or September). Include a mix of legumes such as red clover, alsike clover, sainfoin and bird's-foot trefoil, alongside other pollinator favourites such as common knapweed and musk-mallow. A more diverse range of flowers, including wildflowers, will benefit a wider variety of pollinators.

In the first year, 2 to 3 cuts will be required dependent on the soil fertility. High fertility will result in more weed growth. Mowing will control the annual weeds in the establishment year but leave sown seeds to grow.  From year 2 onwards, half of the area is cut in May to stimulate late flowering, and the whole area is then cut in September or October. Check the plot for leverets or nesting game birds before cutting. It is better to remove the cuttings to protect the flowering plants in the sward. Otherwise, try to chop and spread the cuttings to avoid smothering the sward.

The mix may need to be re-established on the same plot or elsewhere on the farm after 3 to 4 years if the flowering plant component has become depleted. The area can then return to the crop rotation or be used to establish wild bird seed mix. Soil fertility will have been improved from the legumes and this will benefit the next planting.

It is important to avoid inputs drifting into the margins when applying to adjacent crops. No fertiliser or pesticides are needed post-establishment other than spot treatment or weed-wiping of pernicious weeds such as docks and thistles.

Grazing of plots is only recommended in autumn and winter, but ensure the sward is not damaged by excessive trampling.



In practice

Here are some useful case studies and articles about how farmers are putting Farm Wildlife into practice on their farms

New research: What limits bumblebee populations on farmland?

By Kathryn Smith | 19th February 2021

Authors: Dr Tom Timberlake and Prof Jane Memmott  A new study by Tom Timberlake and colleagues at the University of Bristol shows how important late summer flowers and rural gardens can be for supporting bumblebees on UK farmland. Does this offer an opportunity to devise more targeted agri-environment schemes for pollinators? Pollen and nectar are…

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Case study: Insecticide-free arable farming

By Kathryn Smith | 4th May 2020

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…

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Case Study: Using ELS to maximise wildlife benefits in the Fens

By Kathryn Smith | 2nd October 2013

Author: Steve Pinder Farm: Greeves Farm, Cambridgeshire I am a County Council tenant farmer. I grow winter wheat, beet, rape, and potatoes. I used to grow plots of miscanthus as game cover, which were shot by a small shooting syndicate. No birds were released and the shoot relied on attracting ‘wild’ pheasants. My wife runs a…

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Case Study: Establishing a nectar mix on chalk in the Yorkshire Wolds

By Kathryn Smith | 2nd September 2013

Author: Chris Tomson Farm: Towthorpe Manor Farm Aims: Towthorpe Manor Farm is a 242ha arable farm with chalk dales grazed with native breed cattle. There is a small shoot with cover crops of mustard and triticale privately funded. Winter cropping includes oilseed rape, winter wheat, winter barley and oats for Jordans. Spring beans are also…

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Case Study: A farmland bird package on limestone soils

By Kathryn Smith | 28th June 2013

Author: Jeff Platts Farm: Hazelmere Farm, Creswell, Derbyshire Aims: To provide summer insect food and seed food over winter for seed-eating birds, particularly targeting grey partridges and tree sparrows, and to provide suitable nesting habitat for lapwings on the arable land. Management: Hazelmere farm (270 acres) has been in the family for over 75 years,…

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