Field margins and invertebrate biodiversity

Farmland invertebrates are vital for healthy ecosystem functioning. Many groups have declined due to agricultural intensification. Arable field margins potentially can increase food resources and provide winter refuges for invertebrates. They might also buffer them from agrochemical applications and farm operations. We undertook a series of field and farm-scale experiments which showed the ways in which arable field margins are established and managed can have profound effects on their invertebrate assemblages. Field margin swards established by sowing with a grass and wildflower seed mixture attracted more butterflies than naturally regenerated swards. In the short term, larger and more species-rich invertebrate assemblages were fostered on unmanaged margins than on those managed by cutting. The timing of cutting was critical, with mid-summer cutting having the most persistent, negative effects on invertebrates, while cutting in spring and autumn was generally less damaging and may help maintain sward species richness. Fallowed land (set-aside) configured as blocks rather than margins constituted qualitatively different habitats for invertebrates. Margin width had complex effects on invertebrate abundance and species richness. Boundary hedgerows increased numbers of most invertebrate groups in the adjacent margin. We suggest that blanket management approaches for invertebrates at the farm scale are not optimal. A diverse farmed landscape, with margins of different sizes and different sward structures, will provide for the different ecological requirements of invertebrate populations, and promote their diversity in the characteristically unstable environment of arable systems.

Ruth E. Feber
Paul J. Johnson
Fran H. Tattersall
Will Manley
Barbara Hart
Helen Smith
David W. Macdonald


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Smith, H., Feber, R. & Macdonald, D.W. (1999). Sown field margins: why stop at grass? Aspects of Applied Biology, 54: 275-282.

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  • © Ros Shaw
  • © Ros Shaw
  • © James Bell