Why Take Part?
Taking the Farm Wildlife approach won't just help wildlife. Depending on how you choose to implement the advice, you could see much wider benefits across the farm.
Pollinating insects, such as bumblebees, solitary bees and hoverflies are vital for both the pollination of crops and wildflowers.
Healthy and productive soil is the most valuable asset on the farm. Soils are home to over a quarter of living species on earth
Supporting beneficial insects improves biodiversity on the farm and forms part of an integrated approach to pest management
Supporting biodiversity on the farm can also open up opportunities for your business, including diversified income streams and new market opportunities
Farmers and land managers can do a lot to safeguard and increase populations of wild pollinators by maintaining and creating habitats which provide food (both flowers and larval food plants), and nesting/overwintering areas. Wildflower-rich grasslands and hedgerows, supplemented by flower-rich margins can help to provide flowers from spring through to autumn. Woody habitats, ditches, bare ground and tussocky vegetation help provide nesting and overwintering sites and habitats for insect larvae.
A large proportion of crop species, including oilseed rape, beans, strawberries and apples rely on insect pollinators. In the UK the majority of pollination is carried out by bees (wild solitary bees and bumblebees, as well as domesticated honeybees), flies (including hoverflies and bee-flies), moths, beetles and wasps. Wild insects pollinate our crops for free and improve many crop yields. It is estimated that the value of insect pollination services to the UK farming industry is £690 million per year. The cost of replacing insect pollination in the UK is estimated at £1.8 billion per year (e.g. for field beans c. £700/ha and oilseed rape c. £1,700/ha) which is not an economically viable option.
Different insect pollinator species pollinate different crops and plants, so a variety of wild pollinating insects is needed across the farmed landscape. Oil seed rape is pollinated by short-tongued insects and insect pollination has been shown to increase the number of seeds produced and the oil content of the seeds. Long-tongued bumblebees are key pollinators of field beans, where insect pollination increases pod set and produces more beans per pod. Tomatoes and peppers require ‘buzz pollination,’ which relies on bumblebees and some solitary bees to use vibrations from their flight muscles to dislodge pollen.
Healthy and productive soil is the most valuable asset on the farm, critical to the long-term productivity of farmland. A thriving soil life underpins the whole food web, essentially supporting more visible farmland wildlife such as birds and mammals.
Healthy soils produce healthy plants that are more resilient to pests and disease, require fewer inputs and save money. A well-structured living soil is less susceptible to soil erosion and more permeable to water, reducing the risk of drying out and water logging.
Bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, insects and earthworms all play critical roles in aiding plant growth. Fungi and bacteria in soils convert organic matter into accessible nutrients and break down pollutants, fungi aid in nutrient uptake while bacteria form valuable associations with many crop roots to help fix and supply nitrogen.
The benefits of earthworms in incorporating organic matter, air and structure into the soil as they go is well known.
Although some insects can decrease crop yields and damage produce, the vast majority are of no concern to farming. Some insects are highly beneficial for the role they play in helping control numbers of pest species. An Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach to managing pests, which includes the creation of habitat areas around the farm, is a key way to safeguard and increase populations of these beneficial predatory insects.
The over-use of pesticides can cause chemical resistance in weeds, pests and diseases. Pesticides including insecticides, herbicides and fungicides impact on wildlife directly, through killing plants and invertebrates, and indirectly through the loss of food sources for animals further along the food chain. These impacts extend to many species beneficial to farming, notably pollinator numbers and the ability of insect predators to control pest species on crops.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a way of managing crops to minimise the cost and environmental impacts of chemical inputs by incorporating non-chemical solutions to managing weeds, pests and diseases. Careful use of crop rotations and cultivation techniques such as using stale seedbeds can reduce weed burdens and pest carryover between crops. Habitats such as buffer strips can support beneficial insects, such as ladybirds and parasitic wasps which will help control aphids and other pest species. Including a range of native plants (including flowering plants) in and around crops, and planting cover crops after harvesting will also help to attract beneficial species.
Habitat management for wildlife can provide direct economic benefits on farmland. They boost crop pollination and pest control on arable land, while dense hedgerows, trees, and multi-species swards can benefit livestock through improved shelter and forages richer in minerals and vitamins.
Taxpayer funded schemes, notably agri-environment, can compensate farmers for managing land in ways that help wildlife. ‘Green payments’ can offer a diversified and less volatile income stream. Wildlife management is often best focussed on existing habitats and less productive areas, such as field margins and corners. Indeed, a recent study demonstrated “no significant loss of yield per hectare for globally important arable crops when up to 8% of cropped land is removed from production for the creation of wildlife habitat.”
Wildlife habitat can also add economic value through simplified field operations, providing new marketing opportunities and benefiting on-farm diversification projects.
Climate change resilience
Climate change will present new challenges for farming, particularly with respect to pests, diseases and unpredictable weather.
In the face of uncertainty over climate change impacts, it is important to support strong functioning ecosystems within the farmed environment to increase resilience to environmental change. The six key elements of Farm Wildlife aim to deliver better conditions for farm wildlife to thrive and become more resilient as part of a productive farming system. Introducing more natural resilience will increase the performance and productivity under environmental stress of any kind - including the impacts of climate change.
Issues such as water protection, biodiversity and soil health are tackled more effectively by joined up, collaborative management across farm holdings. Implementing Farm Wildlife’s six key elements across a landscape in a co-ordinated way would yield greater benefits for wildlife. Furthermore, fostering cooperation across neighbouring holdings can also increase communication and efficiency. There are a number of government support and voluntary initiatives available to support farmers working co-operatively across landscapes focussing on key environmental issues.