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Developing a multi-functional arable agri-environment option: enhanced fallow - BD5203

The recent announcement by the European Union of a zero set-aside rate means that the area of uncropped land (set-aside and fallow) is likely to fall dramatically (by 50% in 2008, ACEO 2008). These factors, together with volatile cereal prices, have led to concern that the environmental benefits of fallow land for birds, invertebrates and plants will be lost (Butler et al., 2007). Indeed a recent review of available bird census data for Defra (Vickery et al., 2008; BD1639) highlighted that the average densities of declining PSA species were about 10 times higher on set-aside compared to winter cereals in summer (range 0.5-23). In winter the average densities of declining PSA species were almost 90 times higher (range 4-195). The loss of set-aside may therefore compromise the Government’s ability to meet the PSA target of reversing farmland bird declines by 2020. It is also likely that set-aside provides important habitat for scarce arable plants and pollinating insects, and offers additional benefits in terms of reduced inputs of pesticide and fertiliser, and protection of water and soil resources from damage.

The current Entry Level Stewardship Scheme (ELS) does not contain in-field management prescriptions that would result in similar extensive areas of uncropped land to set-aside. This may be mitigated by the launch of the new EF22 option in February 2010 which requires overwinter stubbles to be left fallow until 31 July in the following year. However, both the uptake and effectiveness of this basic option in providing resources and habitat for a range of taxa remains uncertain.

It is therefore vitally important to develop a series of in-field options which replace the biodiversity function of set-aside and fallow whilst at the same time remain attractive to farmers from a practical and economic perspective. Given that any new in-field agri-environment scheme (AES) options are unlikely to cover such a large area as the set-aside, it is also critically important that this habitat is of a significantly higher quality than that of current set-aside and that it is carefully targeted at the appropriate landscape type and scale.

The aim of this project is to develop and test a range of multi-functional AES options which will produce high quality, uncropped in-field habitat to replace that previously provided by set-aside and other fallows. Specifically, the project will investigate potential solutions to the lack of farmland bird food resources post-March (the ‘hungry gap’), as well as the provision of flowers for pollinating insects during the summer.
The project aims will be achieved by addressing the following objectives:

1) Establish a small plot experiment on light and heavy soil types in order to test a wide range of low cost and practical management prescriptions for fallow land which enhance biodiversity and the provision of ecosystem services;

2) Quantify the effects of soil type and time of sowing (spring vs autumn) on the establishment and productivity of key bird and insect food plants;

3) Undertake detailed assessments of a) the production and retention of seed resources for farmland birds during the autumn and late winter, and invertebrate food resources in the summer, and b) the provision of flower resources for pollinating insects in the summer;

4) Record the utilisation of different in-field habitats by birds in winter and pollinating insects in summer;

5) Collaborate with Defra and Natural England to produce new management prescriptions for fallow land applicable to areas managed under both the Environmental Stewardship Scheme the Campaign for the Farmed Environment;

6) Use the experimental sites to undertake training and technology transfer for Project Officers, advisors and farmers;

7) Assess the scientific value, feasibility and cost of testing the most successful ‘enhanced fallow’ options at the field scale. This would require a multi-site approach comparing the effectiveness of the new enhanced overwinter stubble option (EF22; launched Feb 2010) with new prescriptions derived from this project in providing food resources and in-field breeding habitat for birds and other taxa.
Project Documents
• EVID2 - Proposal for a research project : BD5203 SID3 2 Q7 Jan10 rpywell (2)   (93k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2009

To: 2012

Cost: £251,847
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
Environmental Stewardship