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Sustainable management strategies for creeping thistle - BD1449

Description
Background
Creeping thistle (Cirsium arvense L. (Scop.)) is a serious perennial weed of land managed for agriculture, forestry and increasingly nature conservation. The CEH Countryside Survey showed that between 1978 and 1990 there was a significant increase in the mean cover of creeping thistle from 1% to 10% in fertile grasslands throughout the UK and these high levels of infestation were maintained in the 1998 survey. During this period cover also increased in linear habitats surrounding farmland, such as hedgerows and ditches, suggesting an increasing potential for invasion. Proposed reforms to agricultural support payments are likely to result in an extensification of grassland management over large areas of the UK. Evidence suggests that injurious weeds, such as creeping thistle, are likely to be an increasing problem in such grasslands. It is also probable that rates of infestation will be exacerbated by predicted climate change scenarios affecting the UK. Effective and environmentally sustainable weed control strategies are therefore urgently required. These can be divided into: (i) control of existing infestations by combinations of weed control treatments and grazing management regimes, and (ii) prevention of infestation by best-practice management.

The DEFRA-funded research project BD1437 identified particular grazing regimes, in combination with cutting and/or herbicide treatments, with potential as environmentally sustainable management systems for the control of creeping thistle in the short-term. The effectiveness of these grazing regimes alone to control or inhibit invasion of pastures by this weed now needs to be tested in the longer-term (beyond year 3). BD1437 also provided new insights into the effects of grazing on the population dynamics of creeping thistle, which, if consistent over time, will provide greater predictability of the threat of thistle invasion and spread under different grassland management scenarios that could result from changes to agricultural support. Results of this project will provide practical management options for the refinement of guidelines for the control of creeping thistle in grasslands.

Objectives
(i) establish long-term integrated weed management strategies for the control of existing infestations of creeping thistle in grasslands;
(ii) determine the potential for grazing management alone to prevent/reduce thistle invasion and spread.

Policy relevance
The control of injurious weed species is required under the Weeds Act of 1959. Practical, cost-effective and ecologically sustainable weed control measures are essential to the achievement of the policy objectives of the agri-environment schemes, together with the wider objectives of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.
Objective
The overall aim of the project is to develop and test Integrated Weed Management Systems (IWMS) for the control of creeping thistle that will provide: (a) Long-term control through rapid reduction in population densities, (b) Prevention of (re-)invasion and/or spread of low-density populations.

This will be accomplished through the following objectives:
1. Determine the potential for grazing management alone to prevent/reduce thistle invasion and spread;
2. Establish long-term integrated weed management strategies for the control of existing infestations of creeping thistle in grasslands;
3. Recommend practical, effective and ecologically sustainable weed control strategies suitable for use within the agri-environment schemes.
Project Documents
• Final Report : Sustainable management strategies for creeping thistle   (420k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2003

To: 2006

Cost: £199,875
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Natural Environment Research Council, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
Keywords
Biodiversity              
Environmental Protection              
Habitat conservation              
Nature conservation              
Fields of Study
Environmental Stewardship