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07 Aug 2012
A recent report by Plantlife explains how arable plant species are disappearing from our countryside. Arable plants are some of the most threatened but should have more recognition due to their role in the ecosystem. Work by Gift to Nature and Island 2000 over the past decade corroborate these findings showing that arable wildflowers benefit both wildlife and the health of a crop.
Species such as poppies, cornflowers and corn marigolds are now much rarer in some parts of the country. This is because of agricultural intensification where herbicides are sprayed, crops farmed right to the field edges and a faster rotation of crops.
Arable wildflowers attract bees who thrive on a diversity of forage plants. In return the bees pollinate the crops that we eat! Gift to Nature’s research into bee pollination has found that bees improve the health of a crop by increasing gene diversity. Therefore there can be a larger crop yields with bigger produce.
Wildflowers also provide seed and refuge for farmland birds. A survey by Island 2000 found that when plants were allowed to grow alongside crops there was a more interesting structure to vegetation resulting in a greater abundance of insects and so more food for birds. The crop itself also produced longer lasting and large seeds.
Key target bird species to benefit from increased diversity of arable wildflowers include song thrush, yellowhamer, linnet, reed bunting, house sparrow and grey partridge, whose numbers all increased at the trial sites.
Plantlife suggest leaving a margin of bare ground is enough to help arable wild flowers return. Seeds can still be viable years after dispersal and given the chance are likely to germinate. Sowing generic wildflower seed mixes is not always beneficial because local provenance and genetic diversity are lost.
This method can apply at any scale. A margin of wildflowers around your veggie patch can mean more runner beans and colossal courgettes.