The Establishment and Management of Field Margins

Field margin is a generic term which refers to an area of land surrounding a field that lies between the crop and the boundary. This can be managed by land owners and farmers to benefit wildlife and to protect the environment from pollutants.

Many key species in the UK are in sharp decline due to agricultural practices. Field margins represent important havens for a wide array of creatures, many of which are threatened, and so the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) identifies these areas as priority habitats. Every land owner can play an important role in protecting the environment and supporting the nation’s wildlife. Field margins have never been so important and can help us to face the challenges resulting from climate change and to balance environmental concerns with the increasing demand for food production.

I am able to assist you in the planning of your field margins. These may take a variety of forms including hedgerows, wild flowers and grass strips. I can offer a clear and concise plan of action together with an estimate of costs. But I also benefit from the expert knowledge, skilled team and specialist equipment which enable me to establish your field margins and to provide ongoing management.

I would be delighted to meet with you to discuss your vision for your land.

Growing With You

Meeting Your Vision

Supporting Wildlife

Clear Management Plans

Field Margins and Wildlife

Field margins provide vital habitats for a wide variety of species including grasses and wild flowers, birds, insects and mammals. Unproductive margins can be effectively managed to promote biodiversity and to protect key species. Excluded from crop spraying and chemical fertilisation, the margins can take many forms.

Wild flowers provide nectar and pollen for bees, wasps and butterflies. Beetles and grasshoppers take cover in grasses as do spiders and ladybirds. These are beneficial predators which feed on crop pests including aphids.

Field margins also provide valuable refuges for brown hares, harvest mice and other small mammals, such as field voles which are food sources for barn owls and kestrels. Hedgerows are nesting sites for small birds, many of which are in serious decline and have been identified as priority species.

Several species of wild flowers are of concern themselves as their distribution and abundance is also in decline. There are as many as 300 species of plant which can prosper in arable field margins and hedgerows. Flowers such as shepherd’s needle, cornflower, corn buttercup and corncockle were once considered to be weeds but have now almost disappeared from the landscape.

Field margins provide feeding, foraging, sheltering and nesting opportunities together with  important corridors which enable the different species to move between habitats.


Field Margins and Pollution

In addition to the major benefits for wildlife, field margins also act as buffers to reduce soil erosion and to prevent the transfer of agricultural pollutants to non-cropped areas.

It is crucial to choose the correct location for a field margin.  This will impact the extent to which it may reduce the run-off of crop nutrients, sediment and the spray drift which results from the application of pesticides. For instance, a wild flower margin placed adjacent to a sensitive area such as a watercourse will provide added defence against spray drift when compared to a margin which simply separates two arable fields. Regarding run off, a narrower margin placed at the downslope edge of a field may be more effective than a wider buffer adjacent to a watercourse. This is because reducing the total volume of run off in the landscape and placing measures close to the source of the run-off can produce better results than localised margins.

Measures designed to reduce sediment and phosphorus run-off will also reduce soil erosion.

In order to achieve the best results from your margins it is necessary to evolve the right strategy and to implement an ongoing management plan.

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has established rules for direct payments to farmers under designated support schemes. Field margins with a width between 1 and 20 metres on which there is no agricultural production are considered to be Ecological Focus Areas.

In-Field Habitats

Skylark Plots

Sparsely vegetated nesting sites which are maintained in large arable fields from March until July enable ground-nesting birds to prosper.

Skylarks live and nest in open fields to avoid predators. They cannot be assisted by measures taken within 10 metres of the field boundary. Adult birds feed on the seeds of crops and weeds. They nest on the ground in vegetation which is 20-50cm in height. In order to sustain their population, these birds must attempt to nest two or three times during the season. Many crops are too tall for them to nest in whilst silage fields are cut too frequently to promote successful breeding.

Beetle Banks

Beetle banks are low grassy mounds approximately 2 metres wide which should run the length of an arable field. They provide winter habitats for many species of insect and spider and can also help ground nesting birds and small mammals. Predatory insects and spiders will then spread across the crop in spring and reduce the number of pests.

The beetle banks can begin 20 metres from the edge of the field at each end so that it can still be farmed as a single unit.


Types of Field Margin

Field margins offer multiple benefits for the environment. However, the effectiveness of these margins will depend on their design, management and placement. It is important to consider what you wish to achieve before evolving your strategy.

The types of margin which you may consider are:

Cultivated Low-Input Margins

These are areas which are cultivated periodically (usually annually or biannually) but which are not sprayed with insecticides and herbicides except for the purpose of controlling injurious weeds. This type of margin includes conservation headlands and portions of land managed specifically to create habitats for annual arable plants. The margins will deliver the most benefit when sited next to a buffer strip, stubble or an area planted either for wild bird seed or nectar flowers. This is a rotational option which means that the headlands can move around the farm within the normal arable rotation.

Margins to Provide Seed for Wild Birds

This type of margin is sown with plants which are allowed to set to seed and remain in place over the winter. The margins may be sown with cereals, grasses or broad leaved plants. Maize  should not be planted in these areas as it is not beneficial for birds. Such areas planted to provide seed for wild birds are also rotational options and so can can move around the farm within the normal rotation.

Wild Flower Margins

Margins sown with wild flowers or agricultural legumes provide pollen and nectar resources for invertebrates including butterflies and bees. This option is ideally suited to larger blocks and small fields and is a rotational option so the margin can move around the farm with the usual rotation.

Grass Strips

Grass strips are permanent features with a mix of tussocky and fine-leaved grasses. Grass strips should not be treated with herbicides other than to control injurious weeds and invasive non-native species. They can be used to provide buffers for watercourses but they will also support wildlife and enable a variety of creatures to travel between habitats.


Highly significant features for wildlife, hedgerows are vital habitats for many species which are of concern. They are especially important for butterflies and moths. Mammals and birds feed, breed and shelter in hedgerows which also provide cover from predators. Rich flora can flourish at the base of hedgerows and they facilitate movement between habitats.

Planning Your Field Margins

Field margins have the potential to offer huge benefits to the environment. But their effectiveness will depend on their design, management, placement and planting. The issues are complex as in attempting to maximise a particular benefit to the eco-system, another may be compromised. Mowing a grass margin will enhance foraging opportunities for wild birds but may kill invertebrates. Managing a field margin to provide late nectar sources for pollinators could negatively impact small mammals which are seeking cover.

It is important to formulate a plan for your field margins which meets the needs of your local environment whilst maximising your potential financial rewards from the relevant stewardship schemes. Naturally, it is also crucial to satisfy your vision for the land. I can plan your strategy whilst considering all possible implications and provide an assessment of costs both for the project and ongoing maintenance. I am also able to carry out the work required to establish and manage your field margins.

Managed correctly, field margins will benefit the environment, wildlife and your estate.