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.
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.
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